Thursday 14 August 2008

CND Memories

To the old Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury for a small photographic exhibition on the early history of CND.

I’m struck by how innocent, middle class-eccentric, and peculiarly English it all looks. Lots of duffel coats, beatnik beards and NHS glasses in evidence. I’m also surprised at how elderly many of the protestors are. At the time, the early 1960’s, their age would mean that their views had been shaped by memories of the First World War and the pacifism of the inter-war years.

Even the images of the police look benign – not the paramilitary clobber we are used to seeing on demos these days – definitely more Dixon Of Dock Green than Robocop. There’s nothing innocent about the images of them manhandling protestors though.

My own experiences of CND date back twenty years later to the 1980’s. Like many people of my generation CND was a massive formative influence – but I still smile when I remember one of the first meetings I attended. Me and a mate were eager to demonstrate our new-found political awareness and spoke about the ‘capitalist system’ – a member of the local group corrected us ; ‘we prefer to call it greediness’…

Monday 11 August 2008

Brick Lane

To Brick Lane on Sunday.

Memories of the early 90’s when I was a regular visitor for a bit of anti-Fascist ‘direct action’. There’s not much danger of running into any Fascists in Brick Lane nowadays. Plenty of language students, fashion students, art students, Euro gap-year-ers and trusti-farians. Or numerous other sub-genres that require a stupid haircut and expensive second hand clothes that imply a knowing post-modern sense of irony.

The thing is I really want to like Brick Lane. I like the idea of the bohemian-ness of it all. It feels as if this is what city-life should be about. On a Monday morning when most my workmates are telling tales of football, birds and ‘Stella, I want to be one of those metro-sophisticate arty types. But when I’m actually there on a Sunday afternoon and confronted close up with their pretension, I can’t help wishing that they’d all just fuck off and get a proper job.

Friday 8 August 2008

Good day for bad news

Just caught the BBC News 24 coverage of the interminable Olympic opening ceremony.

Breaking news comes in from Georgia that Russian tanks have crossed the border to support nationalist rebels. In a piece of perfect visual irony worthy of Banksy, the coverage for a moment goes into split -screen mode: On one side the pompous pageant with its cast of drilled thousands, and on the other rumbling tanks. Suddenly, as if the subversive subliminal message has just dawned on the BBC editors, the image is gone. Delicious.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Solzenycin ... & other dissidents

Much as Steven Hawkins is everybody’s favourite cosmologist, despite few having actually finished A History Of Time much less actually understood it, so Alexander Solzenycin is everyone’s favourite Soviet dissident without many having actually read The Gulag Appeligio.

The fact is by the end of his life he was a Russian nationalist of a particularly nasty reactionary kind. He sung the praises of the old regime under the Tsars and of the Orthodox Church, with a bit of traditional anti-semitism thrown in for go measure. He held the view, like Putin, that ‘Mother Russia’ had a special destiny; a third way that was neither western democracy nor communism.

Now that his obituaries are being written there seems a sense that he can be forgiven his reactionary quirks given his suffering under the Soviet regime and his exposure of its horrors to the world. Actually I suspect that at time of his greatest prominence in the west in the late 60’s and 70’s, the opposite was the case. All that stuff about human rights in Russia was much less important than the ammo he provided for the Cold War.

At that time he not only gave the US his staunch support, he criticised them for weakening in the anti-communist crusade – for giving up in Vietnam and for not supporting Franco. He even attacked western liberals like Amnesty International, for taking up the causes of dissidents everywhere rather than just in communist countries.

Solzenycin was not the only, the first, or even the most eloquent champion of dissidents, but he is now the best known. He is certainly not the most attractive. But it’s not too hard to figure out why others who didn’t want to turn the Russian clock back to the Middle Ages have not been given the same status. People like Victor Serge.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

The Dirty South

To Camden’s Electric Ballroom to see the Drive By Truckers. A proper rock’n’roll venue – painted black, sleazy, sweaty, with a smell of stale beer and a tiny capacity of about 500. A perfect setting for the DBT’s whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-it.

I’ve come a bit late to the DBTs’ and I’m working my way through the back catalogue. For me they have the appeal of Steve Earle – good ole boys (and a girl) with a taste for the dark side and not afraid to get in touch with their liberal side - only louder, much louder, in a distorted and just-ragged-enough Neil Young & Crazy Horse kind of way.

The themes are not just the traditional ones of working men, love gone bad, trucks, family feuds, guns, incest, poor farmers and whiskey (although it’s all good). This could just be the most honest ‘protest song’ yet about the war in Iraq through the eyes of blue-collar America:

That man I shot, He was trying to kill me
He was trying to kill me He was trying to kill me
That man I shot I didn’t know him
I was just doing my job, maybe so was he

That man I shot, I was in his homeland
I was there to help him but he didn’t want me there
I did not hate him, I still don’t hate him
He was trying to kill me and I had to take him down

That man I shot, I still can see him
When I should be sleeping, tossing and turning
He’s looking at me, eyes looking through me
Break out in cold sweats when I see him standing there

That man I shot, shot not in anger
There’s no denying it was in self-defense
But when I close my eyes, I still can see him
I feel his last breath in the calm dead of night

That man I shot, He was trying to kill me
He was trying to kill me, He was trying to kill me
Sometimes I wonder if I should be there?
I hold my little ones until he disappears

I hold my little ones until he disappears
I hold my little ones until we disappear
And I’m not crazy or at least I never was
But there’s this big thing that can’t get rid of

That man I shot did he have little ones
That he was so proud of that he won’t see grow up?
Was walking down his street, maybe I was in his yard
Was trying to do good I just don’t understand

Patterson Hood / Drive-By Truckers © Razor and Tie Music (BMI)

Monday 4 August 2008

Keeping it professional

A bizarre end to the week. Farewell drinks with the blokes that we are laying off. Very amicable – they all seem understanding and tell me that ‘it’s just one of those things’. I feel somehow that it is right for me to make an appearance and buy a few rounds. I’m not sure if this is the honourable thing to do or whether it’s just to make me feel better. Either way I don’t hang around too long – it just feels too awkward and weird.

The truth is that in the three months that they have been aware of the situation, only two out of the eight have managed to secure full time work in the industry. So with recession looming it’s not ‘just one of those things’. This stoicism is praised as ‘being professional’ on both our parts. But I want someone to kick up and shout ‘this is fucking outrageous - after years of good work we’re finished just so a big customer can cut costs!’ Because that’s exactly how it is.

As a double whammy, at the same time one of the senior managers here has decided that now is the time to jump ship to a close competitor. He’s a good guy and we’ve always got along well. But he knows our business inside out and is now well placed to do us damage in his new role. Again we’re stoic and professional. We say we understand his reasons and wish him well. But I what I really want to say is ‘you’ve just stabbed us in the back at the very worst time fucker’.

All this ‘professionalism’ is seen as a good thing. Maybe it is because it keeps the lid on when we’re about to blow up. But it also feels like passivity and cowardice, a cop-out and an acknowledgement that nothing should be allowed to get in the way of keeping the greasy money making wheels turning.

Friday 1 August 2008

Knowing your place

She may not actually write the novels that go out under her name but Katie Price (aka ‘glamour’ model Jordan) has written an editorial in today’s Times. She was refused entry to the Cartier International Polo event last weekend. She now takes a stand as an unlikely class-warrior.

She may be famous, she may be well off and she may be a genuine all things horse-y enthusiast but as far as the snobby establishment who run these things are concerned she is just another chav who doesn’t know her place.

Earlier this week I was at ‘Glorious Goodwood’ on a corporate jolly. As someone with no interest in horse racing I had a surprisingly good time – much as I would have at any other free all day piss up in the sunshine. And the spectacle of the day and a bit of excitement with a small bet on each race did undeniably add to the occasion. Sweltering in a suit and tie didn't.

Fundamentally though the whole thing struck me as a complete load of old toss. A race course is a perfect microcosm of our class ridden society.

There’s the members’ enclosure for the genuine ‘old money’. There’s the corporate enclosures for the aspirational types. There’s the stands for the masses. And then there’s the poor sods who are camped up on the hill outside the course altogether hoping to catch a glimpse of the races. Or even sadder, a deferential glimpse of the toffs in their best regalia.

And of course there's a few cheeky interlopers like me who don't really belong with any of them .