26 July 1945: when Britain became a socialist country

Britain was pretty skint in 1945, but our grandparents managed – even after six years of war and the ‘Hungry Thirties’ – to build the NHS, replace bomb-damaged and decaying Victorian slums with new homes, open up education to all, establish a welfare safety net and nationalise industries into models of occasional efficiency. (Quibble on that last one if you like, but taxpayers pay more for the ‘private’ rail companies now than they did under the not particularly well-loved British Rail.)

It wasn’t perfect, but social mobility and equality was at a more even level than it is 70 years later. Of course, today’s Tories hate their achievements and are seeking ways to dismantle that society at every turn. Their intention was always to punch so many holes in the welfare state that campaigners wouldn’t know which part to mend first. And so we see the NHS – which they call a ‘mistake‘ – attacked. The seriously disabled and terminally ill being told they are fit for work. More children living in a poverty that won’t even be acknowledged any more. Meanwhile, corporation taxes are only for the little companies. This is no accident, this is by design.

My grandad once told me, as he gave me a copy of Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to read, that this was the book that won it in 1945 for Labour. Although everyone knew that Churchill had been an immense leader during the War, they feared a vote for the Tories would mean again losing the peace as their fathers had done after the Great War. Promised ‘A Land Fit For Heroes’, instead they returned to unemployment and poor housing.

image

As The Guardian recorded:

The country has preferred to do without Mr Churchill rather than have him at the price of having the Tories too.

It’s a terrible shame that we are having to learn again that, for the weakest in society, that price is always too high. So, as my grandparents’ generation passed a copy from hand to hand, so I pass on to you a (free!) copy of Tressell’s masterpiece. More than a mere political tract, it is a very human story of the tragedies that ensue when work doesn’t pay and unemployment is fatal. Far more radical than any Labour Government – even Atlee’s – ever managed to be, it is a call to action as well as a cracking read. One that the Labour leadership contenders could do with reading in celebration of today’s anniversary.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Miniplenty

Air Babylon by Imogen Edwards Jones

Ladies and gentleman, welcome on board this feature. My name is John and I will be your reporter during today’s review of the notorious book, AIR BABYLON. It will be quite a short, succinct piece and if the seat belt sign is turned on, please return to your seats and buckle up immediately.

air-babylon

Please note before we do take off, in one of my previous lives I was actually a long-haul flight attendant for a well-known Italian business. I travelled around the world for several years enjoying the environments of Cuba, Maldives, Dominican Republic, Mombasa, Calgary, Goa and Florida to name a few. A question I am often asked is that of my favourite destination. Undoubtedly Calgary, a great place for outdoor pursuits and a thriving culture scene. It was quite a lifestyle: staying in five-star hotels and having lots of time off in between. Reality did not just bite, when I had to do a proper occupation with conventional hours, as in so much that it gnawed off my leg.

So this book, AIR BABYLON by Imogen Edwards Jones and Anonymous. In a similar formula to Hotel Babylon, the stories all take place within a fictitious airline known as AIR BABYLON. The action is the life cycle of an airport’s day of operation and a flight. However, like air travel in general, there was a slight delay before the story actually took off. This piece of pulp fiction reminded me of terminology used in this industry I had forgotten, such as disco nap (a quick sleep before a night on the dance floor). It took me right back to what it was like working in the airport, an overpriced shopping centre with runways. I recalled the cast of characters regularly seen, semi-permanent resident tramps, drug addicts and petty thieves.

I could identify with lots of areas covered in the book. For example, some of the customer annoyances and desperately trying to have five minutes’ rest on an upturned silver stock box in the galley, uninterrupted by passengers demanding more booze or snacks. To the in-flight rituals: checking the seat pockets during turn around (when the plane prepares to come back from a short haul flight) to see what treasures are left behind. Things like duty free or books, the occasional oddity like dentures and – on one of my long-haul flights – a sex aid!

It also identified my particular hate, passengers standing up as soon as we landed, even though the fuselage was still in transit,

They’ve been cooped up for hours, fed and watered at someone else’s whim, and now, suddenly they are allowed free will. But it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. If they are not held up by passport control, Baggage will get them in the end. They’ll all end up standing next to one another in the taxi queue at the other end no matter how speedily they exit the plane.

I will state now though that I am not one to kiss and tell, my personal tales of damage and glamour are filed away in my mind’s eye for my own pleasure and perhaps a few choice friends only. As I worked in the aviation industry, some of the sensationalist factoids quoted failed to impress. In general, I found the book was like a long-haul fight. It was too, too long and some of the anecdotes made me feel nauseous. I did wonder whether or not the book should be accompanied with a sick bag, as the emphasis was on the grosser elements involved in sharing space with strangers at 35,000 feet. A great deal too much focus on toilet habits!

Where the amount of scenarios encountered in a 24 hour time period in a hotel seemed just about credible, here in the air it is exceptionally unbelievable. With one calamity bungling into the next, this book makes the movie Snakes on a Plane seem plausible. A warning to the cautious, particularly those who feel extremely petrified about flying, a common phobia: THIS BOOK WOULD NOT PROVE APPROPRIATE TRAVEL READING.

I personally find the whole concept of air travel fine. I quite like floating up in the clouds, it is soothing. But I must say I do find the choice of terminology for an airport quite weird, I mean TERMINAL is not a good advertisement for safety. If you have never worked in aviation, this book will prove to be salacious camp fun, but if you have, perhaps some of the clichés will prove irritating. But then, I often think I was born in the wrong era, as I would have loved to have flown in the bygone golden days, when air travel was elite and the height of sophistication. One of my life ambitions is to travel on the Orient Express and also take the boat from Liverpool to New York City.

I remember flying with one debonair lady who was of an undisclosed age. She was couture sophistication, all leather gloves, starched epaulettes and rouge-red lipstick. She never broke a sweat or looked stressed, even after a 15 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Her perfume scented calmness and her smooth glide as she walked turned heads. Every time I saw this vixen of the skies, in comparison to the other new blood who had just begun their careers, it made me think of the musical song from the show CHICAGO, Nowadays and particular the line sung,

Whatever happened to class?

A similar sentiment entered my head when I reached the final destination, the end of this book.

Well, as we are shortly about to begin our descent to the end of this piece, may I inform you that I am going to tackle another in the Babylon series, FASHION BABYLON. We do hope you have enjoyed this literary flight. Thank you for flying ten minutes hate.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

London belongs to… who?

If you haven’t yet read London Belongs To Me, Norman Collins’ epic tale of a South London street and its inhabitants, now might be a good time to do so.

As dusk falls, the Park in the background becomes vast and mysterious, and the gas lamps that light your way along the main paths dwindle into the distance like lanterns in Illyria. But somehow or other it remains London, with the buses that cruise up Park Lane twinkling through the railings, and the air filled with the roar and rustle of innumerable wheels. Yes, it’s London all right…

How much longer that will be the case remains to be seen. The gas lights have long gone and the buses are now diesel-electric hybrids. Other, less cosmetic, changes are also afoot.

image

It is a given that laments such as this one and this one have been written ever since shortly after the Great Fire (‘I remember when all this was plague pits!’). But from reading such stories at a safe, half-the-globe-away distance, it appears that my old life in London – minor job in the City, nice flat with decent landlady, The Dolphin for cheap nights out, Fabric for a payday splurge – no longer exists. Sadness and some anger results.

When I first arrived in London, there were still artists living in Hoxton Square, as incredible as that seems now. They were pushed out further and further, from N1 to Hackney, some heading down to Deptford. Faced with the prospect of living in Zone 6 by the time this ends, a few brave souls have cut their losses completely, leaving London to those who think £800 pcm is reasonable for a flat where you can boil the kettle and brush your teeth without leaving the comfort of your bed. Eventually, the culture of what almost no one still calls ‘The Big Smoke’, with its feel of a hundred slightly-connected villages, will be that of Dubai, or parts of Switzerland.

I was once asked where the centre of London was and I couldn’t begin to say. Is it Trafalgar Square? No, that is for tourists. Residents usually only go there to change buses. Oxford Street? Best avoided in summer, the January sales and before Christmas. Instead of one midpoint, each former village has its own centre and characteristics, usually based upon who has settled there or what their trade was. One of my friends was surprised to learn that her entire post code was full of Portuguese expats when coming home one evening during some sporting event to find all the lampposts, stores and restaurants hung with flags. Choosing between bagels or curry on Brick Lane, seeing a quiet Bethnal Greet street come alive every Saturday with families going to the synagogue at the end of the road, dancing to the Skatalites in Finsbury Park. Talking nonsense in the open-all-night Italian cafés of Soho, my first taste of Jamaican ackee and saltfish in Lewisham, hearing of someone who went on holiday to Poland and came back with what he thought were rare treats, only to be told they were selling the same brands in the local corner shop… it was easy to track the ebb and flow of established communities and recent arrivals (often via food).

Similar renewals have always been part of London’s story. The most notorious slums in the city once stood not too far from Covent Garden. The neighbourhood of opium dens that Dorian Gray frequented are now full of yellow brick and glass buy-to-let blocks. The old City fell once to the Luftwaffe’s bombs – which just missed St Paul’s – and then again to the planners, the brutalists and futurists. The fogs and ‘pea-soupers’, so dense that they are almost another character in tales as diverse as the Sherlock Holmes stories, the debut of George Smiley (and John le Carré) and Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head, have been consigned to the past. Still, hours of entertainment can be had walking around and trying to imagine what was once there. One weekend I stumbled across Cable Street – scene of the famous 1930s battle – by taking a wrong turn under a flyover.

London does encourage flights of fancy: I don’t think I ever took the bus over Waterloo Bridge without thinking of Terry and Julie and humming a little. I always expected to see some of Michael Frayn’s characters from Towards the End of the Morning as I stumbled out of a Fleet Street boozer at closing time. Despite the near constant tinkering – as Mark Woff once noted: ‘London, it’ll be great when it’s finished’ – scenes of Gordon Comstock’s Hampstead tedium, the impossible-to-escape pubs of Earl’s Court in Hangover Square and of course hints of all of the Dickens still remain, tucked away. Perhaps London changes, but Londoners rarely do. It is a broad club. I think I know one true, born and bred Londoner, everyone else being later transplants, but it doesn’t take long until you’re ‘part of the furniture‘. Then you can enjoy all the fun of going back home for a visit and playing a game of ‘Guess how much this costs in London’, with friends who think you must have lost your mind to want to live there.

Even on a fairly median wage, it always seemed possible to get a glimpse of the other London. The 1%’s town hovered at the edge of our vision like something out of China Miéville’s The City & The City: champagne bars on the client’s tab, openings at galleries, a Soho rooftop party complete with hot tubs. Once accidentally going clubbing to the kind of place the young Royals used to drink in, or the time a celebrity came over to our table at a cabaret to admire my friend’s dress, another evening at a private club that almost had a secret handshake on entry, the night we blagged into the Gaucho Club and were bought drinks by John Diamond (one of the best conversationalists, even though using pen and notepad). It is easy to write your own legends. But some of the best times were at the opposite end of the scale: £5 to get into The Ultimate Hackney Warehouse Rave with all my pals, a Friday evening at Tate Modern, weekend lazing in Regent’s or Victoria or one of the other amazing parks. London living wasn’t always out of the reach of the non-bankers.

Now though, it seems the monied classes have grown tired of their fun being invaded by the plebs. As Focus E15 and Islington Park Street have discovered, there is a cleansing going on. We poke fun at the Sixties town planners, deride and tear down their visions of the future rendered in concrete – including the playgrounds. But they understood, perhaps better than their counterparts in Paris or other segregated capitals, the vibrancy that comes from having the money and the talent in close proximity. When all the proles have been moved to the Outer Zones, when the record shops of Soho are shuttered and the street markets redeveloped – when London is essentially Singapore with worse weather – why will anyone, including the mega-rich, bother with it?

Well, perhaps it is no longer our problem. Escape to a life that doesn’t involve having to get on the Northern Line in rush hour. Head to the regional cities, with their quality of life, branches of famous department stores and exquisite cultural gems. Go wild in the country and pretend you don’t care about fast broadband anyway. Or move further away, for all that I constantly hear about how expensive Tokyo is, I used to live in the equivalent of Zone 1 in a studio flat and still had cash left over for fun and fripperies. Couldn’t make a cup of tea without getting out of bed first though. Damn.

What’s inevitable in all these ‘farewell London’ laments is that the people going are of a certain age, bringing up children or looking to move beyond flatmates and stumbling off night buses. It is entirely right that they should be moving to somewhere leafier and leaving the bright lights to the youth and eternally young. And if you are feeling like you have to leave, but are not quite ready to be put out to pasture, when you reach your new destination: make it shine. Support local arts and community groups. Grow things. Regenerate (sympathetically) and nurture. Use your London nous and contacts to develop and mentor. Then perhaps we will finally see the long-promised rebalancing of Britain as being more than its capital. Who does London belong to? As it was with the Ancient Britons, the Romans or the Huguenots, as for the West Indians, Poles and Chinese, it may belong to you. Through generations or for the blink of an eye, the true London spirit is to enjoy it while it lasts.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Miniplenty

On leaving

It was on the Malaysia-Thailand border that it really hit home, the advantage of that burgundy-covered book that an accident of birth had gifted me. An entire train-load of people had been politely asked to get off and line up for a passport inspection. It was early in the morning, with a hazy idea of exactly where we were and a head full of track-rocked dreams, the jungle not very far from the station. Trying to remember every detail seems almost redundant, your brain drinks it all in and stores it away for later without you really noticing. The train staff, inspectors and regular travellers knew the drill, the backpackers and first timers tried to affect an air of the same and that same patient mood that hovers all over anything bureaucratic in South-East Asia soon lulled the crowd back into half-sleep.

It took about 30 seconds for me and my friend to pass the inspection and get settled back on to the train. That burgundy and gold front page, enclosing the request in the name of the Queen that you get afforded such assistance as may be necessary, really is one of the winning tickets in the lottery of nationality. As people from other countries waited in line and explained why they were going where they were going, or backed it up with other documentation, we were waved through. And I remember remarking that you would think after the antics of our not-that-distant Colonial past doors would be slammed in our faces everywhere, but no, we get welcomed pretty much wherever we set foot.

When I think back further, to the first few weeks in Japan, among all the novel sights and experiences is a blend of work, eat, sleep and paperwork. I couldn’t get a nice mobile phone without a bank account. I couldn’t get a bank account without a residency card. I couldn’t get a residency card because I hadn’t managed to find my local ward office. Eventually I asked the right person and they drew a little map from the private train line station to where I needed to go. There was a lumber shop marked on the way and I remember drawing up to it, gaining confidence that I was going in the right direction. I got my residency paperwork. I opened a bank account, I got a smart phone and I was away. Gave back the temporary constantly-needing-top-ups flip phone to my employer in favour of Twitter on the train to work! Emails! Google Maps so I would never get lost again (ahem). It took about eight weeks for me to become a legal alien.

The year I left the UK, I was among one of the lowest numbers of people emigrating for the past five years. I do recall my paperwork taking a while to come through, but I don’t remember any fear that I wouldn’t be allowed in. My education, my skills, the language and culture I had been steeped in from birth, were considered valuable. When you teach in Japan, the category of visa you usually get is the badass-sounding ‘Specialist in Humanities and International Services.’ I got to arrive by plane, after a journey spent glued to the window, catching my first sight of desert mountain ranges – somewhere over Iraq, I think – and sleeping off the jet-lag in an airport hotel before meeting a company rep who delivered me through the labyrinthine train system to my new front door. Although functionally illiterate in Japanese, I went to work in air-conditioned schools in a suit and earnt a decent amount of money that was paid to me every month without fail, all by dint of having been born at the right set of coordinates.

We can’t have a conversation about immigration to Britain without involving those of us who have left. From the former colonies and Commonwealth members where we have long assumed we will jump any visa queue that exists, to the European sun-spots that guarantee us freedom of movement and excellent NHS-funded healthcare, to the old Eastern staging posts and finance centres where you can still have a maid and a sundowner and a pretence that you rule over anything, is domiciled a statistically significant number of people hiding their ‘immigrant’ status behind the much gentler term ‘expat’. Not one of them, it is safe to wager, has ever had fluency in their host country’s language demanded as a condition of residency, nor been denied access to emergency healthcare. Anec-data exists to show that foreign teachers in Japan who qualified received unemployment benefit when a major employer went to the wall.

It is absolutely vile for us to go about the world expecting to have red carpets rolled out, when what we give back in return is suspicion and hatred. The double standard of sending Royal Navy ships to extract our own citizens from war zones and then trying to wriggle out of accepting even a meagre number of refugees should cause us all to choke on our imported cornflakes. If globalisation is to mean anything more than a licence to plunder weaker countries, it has to involve a partnership between those who live in their country of birth and those who have moved on, for whatever reason. Perhaps it is also time for us to drop the use of ‘expat’, and join with the campaign to celebrate immigrants and their contributions to British society.

4 Comments

Filed under Japan

Two become one

ten minutes hate is once again backstage at the home of Liverpool fringe, the Lantern Theatre to hear about their latest project. ‘Cremona Corner’ in partnership with ‘Teapot Tantrum’ presents…’TWO’ by Jim Cartwright.

two

 

What happens in your local pub on a Saturday night? You will find out in this dark comedy with true moments of light and shade. A plethora of interesting characters performed by just two actors. We had a pre-show chat with the frabjous local actress, Jennifer Bea to find out more.

10mh: What do you do before going on stage, do you have any particular superstitious rituals, routines or habits?

Everyone is different but I like to take a minute on my own just to get into the right headspace. Then once you’re on the stage, you are who you are, in that moment, there’s no looking back. That and a very odd warm up which lots of actors do just so people can walk in and catch you hanging upside down singing Peter Piper!

10mh: What was your first memory of the theatre?

Going to see Annie with my mum in the Playhouse when I was about eight.

10mh: Who are the playwrights that you admire?

Joe Orton, Peter Whelan, Jim Cartwright, Victoria Wood and, of course – being from Liverpool – Willy Russell. I love to see new writing too. Especially a comedy, I would much rather cry from laughter than sadness.

10mh: What has been your favourite play or project in your career so far?

Wow, that is a hard one! Each project is special for different reasons. Sometimes you have a great team of actors who make you laugh every day, working with friends is always brilliant. Getting to do what you love with the people you love, win-win! But in terms of exploring a play and getting to places so far away from you but finding truth in it, it has got to be a play by Judith Johnson called ‘Somewhere’. It is an amazing play and a role I will never forget.

10mh: If you could gather an ensemble of actors for a stage project, living or dead, who would you like to cast?

Johnny Depp, Julie Walters, Dawn French, Victoria Wood, Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Kelly and Michael Crawford. Now…which play? ‘Our Day Out.’

10mh: What makes a good performance?

Truth. If you don’t believe yourself, the audience won’t either.

10mh: What advice would you give to anyone who yearns to act or is starting out in the business of treading the boards?

Don’t do it. Get some sense… be a vet.

Performances on 12th-16th May at the Lantern Theatre,
57 Blundell Street, Liverpool.
Please call 0151 703 0000 for tickets.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country

Hitler is back – and going viral!

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

look who's back

In a world where absolutely ridiculous media nincompoops like Katie Hopkins can make a career out of being a sensationalist fascist and are lauded with too, too much media attention, it is hard not to imagine that the plot of the novel Look Who’s Back is anything but highly plausible.

When I have to come up with a solution to a particularly cumbersome problem, I often ask myself,

What would David Bowie do?
What would Kate Bush do?
What would Madonna do?

Rarely, do I think what would Adolf Hitler do? Yet this is exactly what Timur Vermes has done. The resulting piece of fiction is darkly humorous, subtly frightening and deeply disturbing.

It is summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. He is recognised of course, but not as the original blueprint of sadism, instead as being a flawless impersonator, a method actor who refuses to break character. Soon Hitler in all his ‘fuhr-ocity’ goes viral on YouTube and the madman is given his own television show. Disturbingly, the more outrageous his sentiments, the more he is given media attention.

I know Shirley Bassey is not a philosopher but she was ever so right when she sang,

It’s just a little piece of history repeated.

The story abruptly commences with the fascist dictator re-awakening in Germany and immediately thrusts the Fuhrer into the modern jungle that is Berlin. He is outraged and disgusted that his beloved Fatherland is now being run by a female of the species.

The German Reich appeared to have given way to what was called a ‘Federal Republic,’ the leadership of which resided with a woman (‘Federal Chancellor’), although men had been entrusted with this position in the past.

The changes to contemporary society and Adolf’s take on them are laugh out loud amusing. Everything from Starbucks coffee to fashion,

He had brought me a clean pair of blue cotton trousers, which he called ‘genes’, and a clean red-checked cotton shirt.

To mobile phone ringtones,

Which sounded like a drunken clown playing the xylophone.

And of course there is the pint-sized psychopath’s musings on modern technology,

The time, the stock prices of the American dollar, the temperature of the remotest corners of the earth-oblivious to all this; the announcer carried on broadcasting news of world events. It was as if the information were being retrieved from a lunatic asylum. And as if these nonsensical antics were not enough, interruptions for advertisements, as frequent as they were abrupt, declared where the cheapest holiday could be obtained, a claim, a large number of shops made in the same way. No sane person would be capable of remembering the names of these outlets, but they all belonged to a group called www.

Lest we forget, in the past people used to smoke at work, they could puff away at their desks (I thank re-runs of Colombo for this history lesson) and also drink whisky in meetings. With this in mind, it is understandable why such modern civic practices like picking up domestic pets faeces (or doggy caramel as I call it), would look positively absurd;

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a madwoman on the edge of the park who was gathering up what her dog had just deposited.

I think what is clever about this book is it has an almost fearless approach to a taboo subject. It is controversial, and quite timely, in that it really underlines the problems and vulgarity of fame. A society that sees plastic celebrity worshipped above all else. Who cares if you have a talent unless you look younger than you did when you were in the womb? A little bit (or a lot) of a fascist? That’s okay as long as you get the ratings, conquer the Twitter stream and grapple with the Facebook likes.

This piece of literature was first published in Germany, ‘Er ist wider da‘ and is now parading the shelves of book stores in the rest of Europe. A tale that will have the Fuhrer’s ghost haunting you long after you have read it.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Minitrue

Reading with kids (3 to 8 years)

One of the advantages of being an uncle is that every time I purchase books for my nephew and niece, I get the pleasure of reading them first and then re-reading over and over when babysitting. You soon start to recognise the marks of a good quality piece of kids’ literature.

A positive moral or message, an imaginative narrative and a healthy dosage of kookiness, that’s the recipe for a successful kids’ book. Over the last few months I have begun to compile a list of favourites and the chosen titles are as follows:

5. DOG LOVES BOOKS by Louise Yates (3-6 years), Publisher: Cape.

dog loves books

A comical little tale about a dog who runs a book shop and finds that books are the key to other worlds.

4. CROC AND BIRD by Alexis Deacon (3-7 years), Publisher: Hutchinson.

croc and bird

Two eggs hatch side by side, a crocodile and a parrot. The creatures believe they must be brothers, a funny mismatch that celebrates diversity.

3. MR TIGER GOES WILD by Peter Brown (4-7 years), Publisher: Macmillan.

Mr tiger goes wild

A dapper tiger complete with a top hat and Edwardian dress embraces his inner feral animal and starts an alternatively natural trend.

2. ZERAFFA GIRAFFA by Dianne Hofmeyr, illustrated by Janne Ray (4-8 years), Publisher: Frances Lincoln.

ZERAFFA GIRAFFA

A beautifully illustrated true story about a giraffe sent from Egypt to a French King in the 1820s.

1. A CHILDREN’S TREASURY OF MILLIGAN by Spike Milligan (8-108 years), Publisher: Ebury

A Children's Treasury of Milligan

My four year-old nephew has a tendency to cantillate the Milligan poems at random. Limericks like:

There are holes in the sky where the rain gets in.
The holes are small, so rain is thin.

Or my particular favourite:

the pig
A very rash young lady pig
(They say she was a smasher)
Suddenly ran
Under a van-
Now she’s a gammon rasher.

Milligan’s’ scribblings are absolutely barking mad. Sentences of insanity highlighting an imaginative perspective of the world and all who sail in her.

I highly recommend these philosophical pieces of writing. They are guaranteed, I can assure you, to make any sadness in the heart rapidly dissipate.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Golden Country