63 UP, ITV, directed by Michael Apted.

7 Up.jpg

https://www.itv.com/hub/7-63-up-uk/2a1866a0001

‘Give me a child and I will show you the man.’

That old Jesuit or ancient Greek aphorism is alive and well. I’m at 56 and UPward myself and one of my classmates, George Devine’s funeral, was on Wednesday. Arthritis creeps around my bones, but I’m still gloriously alive. When I went to school Mrs Boyle taught us that 9 x 7 = 63 (UP). My life has been in eight instalments, but I’ve followed the nine episodes of this soap opera and read into it things I already know. Class is alive and flourishing in Britain as it was in 1964; a half-hour documentary made by Granada, a World in Action, looked at the state of the nation through children’s eyes.

The villains of the series, as in life, have always been to me the upper classes. I’m like that old priest in Father Ted that when drink is mentioned his eyes glaze and he jumps out of his chair. With me it’s Tories. Fucking, Tory scum.

The first series (7UP) shows us three boys representative of that class, aged 7, Andrew, Charles and John.  They are shown singing Waltzing Matilda in Latin.  In their posh English accents they also boast about what newspapers they read. The Financial Times and Guardian. And tell the viewer exactly what prep school. public school and universities they will attend. And this all comes to pass with Biblical accuracy.  A world away from North Kensington, Grenfell Tower, the same rich South Kensington, London borough, where these boys hailed from.

The exception to the rule was Charles. We see him in 21 UP, long hair, hipster, telling the viewer how glad he didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge and attended Durham University instead. And he was glad of that because it gave him a different view of the world. Ho-hom. He does not appear in the subsequent programmes. Being educated at the right schools and having the right connections, of course, he went on to become something big in Channel 4,  something big in film and theatre and  threatened to sue his fellow documentary maker Michael Apted for using his image. This shows no class at all. Apted being one of those national treasures, like David Attenborough. Imagine, for example, a beluga whale suing Attenborough for impinging on his right’s images and all because of a bit of plastic.

Andrew went on to become a partner in his solicitor’s firm at 31, by that time he’d married outside his class to a good Yorkshire lass, plain Jane and they had two sons, Alexander and Timothy. His firm was taken over by a larger corporation and he regretted spending so much time at work, but in his modest way, admitted those were the choices he made. I quite liked Andrew.

I detested his and my namesake John. Of all the upper-class twats that little Tony wanted to punch, he would have been my prime candidate. I hated everything about him. The way he looked and sounded. His pronouncements that (Luton) car workers with their fabulous wages could afford to send their children to public schools. His life went exactly to the book, his pronouncements, aged 7 UP, realised. He became a Queen’s Council and gained his silk robe. He married the daughter of a former ambassador to Bulgaria and admitted his great grandfather, Todor Burmov, had fought against the Turks to gain independence and had been Prime Minister. No surprise, the gone, gone, gone girl, Teresa May, who attended the same Oxbridge institution, and helped create the hostile environment for immigrants didn’t exactly rush to deport him. John had the wrong accent, the right register of the Queen’s English, fabulous social connections and the pasty-white colour of skin favoured by immigrant officials. Two of his friends were Ministers in the Government.  Even Nigel Farage, the ex-Etonian, would have complained if John had suddenly been napped and put on a flight to Sofia, but then a strange thing happened. I didn’t mind John so much, and actually admired him.

He was one of the few that didn’t tell the viewer whether he had family or not. The reason he kept appearing in subsequent programmes was to promote a charity that helped disabled and disadvantage citizens in Bulgaria. He admitted modestly that he’d worked hard. While that usually would have me thinking nobody had worked harder than coal miners who’d powered the Industrial Revolution and paid in silicosis and black death, or Jimmy Savile who prided himself on being a Bevin boy and working (hard) down the pits and incredibly hard with his charity work and had other interests. John mentioned his mother had needed to work to send him to public school, in the same way that tens of millions of mothers have to work to put food on the table. John gained a scholarship to attend Oxford University, with the inference he was poor. I’m not sure if his mother was a Luton car worker, but I’m sure she didn’t work as a cleaner in a tower block in South Kensington. I didn’t exactly like John, but I understood him better, which is the beginning of knowledge.

I guess like many other viewers I identified with Tony, this tiny kid from the East End of London, his dad a card-shark crook and he looked to be going the same way. Larger than life Tony from 7 UP was a working-class cliché. He was never going to make anything of school. Left at 15 and he tells you early he yearned to be a jockey. He was helping out at the stables and got a job there. I know how he feels. I wanted to play for Celtic and trained with the boy’s club at 15. Trained with Davie Moyes, Charlie Nicholas on the next red gravel training pitch. Clutching my boots in a plastic bag I wasn’t even good enough to be molested by Frank Cairns, although he did give me a passing, playful, punch in the stomach. I guess he was aiming lower down and the lower league. Tony in a later UP series told us he’d ridden in a race against Lester Piggot. He wasn’t good enough, and is big enough to admit it.

Tony with his outdated attitude to women. The four Fs. Fuck them, forget them and I can’t remember the other two. Debbie sorted that out. She gave him three kids and now he’s got three grandkids. Tony admitted he’d had an affair. Tony, plucky London cabbie, having done The Knowledge, as did his wife and son. A spell in Spain trying to work out as a property broker. I guess, I should have guessed. Tony admitted he’d voted Tory all his days and now he wasn’t sure. More of a Farage man. Fuck off Tony.

Tony got a bit heated when he thought Apted had accused him of being a racist. ‘I’m a people’s man,’ he said. ‘You know me.’

Then he talks about the Arabs, in the same way you’d talk about poofs and Paki shops. The Arabs were the only ones that were helping him make money. It wasn’t Uber, that was ripping him off, but Labour that were taking everything and giving nothing back. Fuck off Tony, read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and find out what part of Mugsborough you’ve moved to. Yet, there were his daughter, something that had gone wrong. Sometimes we’ve got to realise that although we circle the wagons, as Tony claimed, only a community can save us.

The old lies are made new again.

Let’s look at the girls from the same social background as Tony. My kind of people. Straight as a die, Lynn, attended the same primary school as Jackie and Sue. Married for 40 years. Two daughter and two granddaughters, Riley, only two-and-a-half ounces at birth. God bless the NHS. Lynn whose first job was in a mobile library. Lynn, who loved kids and loved helping kids to read. Then she worked in Bethnal Green in the library. Under the Tories, of course, we don’t need libraries; we don’t need women like Lynn. Her job was redundant. She was redundant. RIP.

Jackie was always the mouthy one in the triumvirate of girls pictured together. She  told Apted he wasn’t asking her the right kind of questions and patronising them – which he was, a product of his own class. Jackie, first married of the group. First divorced. Said she didn’t want children, but had three boys and ended up  in a council estate in Scotland, but separated from the father of the two of them, but still in love and in touch with him. Jackie, who had rheumatoid arthritis and told the camera, and David Cameron, if he thought she was fit for work then he should show her what kind of job. Disabled, she was classified as not disabled enough and fit for work. Tory scum. Here it is in person. Public policy without humanity and based on a lie. No great surprise the suicide rate on those deprived of benefits has rocketed. I wonder what Farage, who has never worked and continues to draw a hefty stipend from rich fools and from the European Parliament he wants to destroy thinks about that. We know what he thinks. He thinks what rich people tell him. Jackie can speak for herself. Speak for us.

Sue can think for herself too. She got married to have children and had two kids, but divorced their father because she didn’t love him. Karaoke singer, she met Glen and they’ve been engaged for twenty years or more. She works as head administrator in the law faculty of Queen Mary, University of London. She’s thinking about retirement and does a bit of acting and singing. A working class life, made good. But she worries that the world we’re passing on to her children and our children isn’t as good. Doesn’t have the same level of opportunity and social mobility. She’s right to be worried.

Bruce, representative of the middle class,  who when he was 7 UP claimed to have a girlfriend in Africa that he probably wouldn’t see again and wanted to be a missionary, always had that look on his face as if he’d missed something. His father, perhaps, in Southern Rhodesia.  Bruce was beaten at public school. He freely admits it and agonised whether Christianity was an outdated doctrine and whether it was liveable. I wonder about that too. I see the façade and under the façade more façade. The devil seems to me more real than any god and Jesus whose only weapon was love. Yeh, I like Bruce. For a start, although he was public school and went to Oxford to study Maths, he was never a Tory. He taught maths to children in Sylhet, Bangladesh and in the East End of London (Tony’s old school, if I remember correctly). Late in life he married and had two sons.

Peter, who went to the same school in Liverpool as Neil, was also representative of a different strand of the middle class. Both boys claimed they wanted be astronauts, but Neil hedged his bets and claimed he would be as equally happy being a bus driver. Peter went to university, got a degree and took up teaching. The greatest moment of his life was, he claimed, the 1977 Tommy Smith goal for Liverpool in the European Cup Final in Rome. No mention of his marriage or his teaching career. He dropped out of the 7 UP series after being targeted by the Daily Hate Mail and other right-wing publications for criticising Thatcherism. He later re-appeared, in 56 UP, having remarried and hoping to promote his burgeoning musical career. He claimed to be happy working in the Civil Service. Good rate of pay, good pension. He must be ecstatic now that Mo Salah and Liverpool have given him another greatest moment of his life in Bilbao. Anyone that sees through Thatcherism has walked in my shoes and I love my team, Celtic in the same way he loves Liverpool.

Neil never became an astronaut or bus driver. He did go to study in Aberdeen University, but dropped out in the first year and at 21 UP was living in a squat in London and working as casual labour on building sites. Neil makes for good television. Contrast the bright, beautiful and confidant seven-year-old boy with what he’d become, a shifty-eyed loner, with obvious what we’d term now, mental health problems, or as he admitted depression or problems with his nerves, madness. At 28 UP he was living in a caravan in Scotland. Then he was living in Orkney.  Neil never fulfilled his boyhood potential. But I guess that’s true of us all. Then somehow, in that long curve on life he seemed to be making a comeback. 42 UP he’s living with Bruce and later becomes a Liberal Democrat councillor in Hackney. 56 UP he’s moved again to middle England as well as being a councillor is a lay preacher in the Eden district of Cumbria. Able to administer all the rites of the Church of England, apart from communion. 63 UP he’s living in northern France, a house in the countryside he’s bought with money inherited from his parent’s estate. Neil has become a squire. Like me he hoped to have written something people would want to read.

Nick, educated in a one room school house in the tiny village of Arncliffe, in the Yorkshire Dales, a farmer’s son, who went to Oxford and gained a doctorate in nuclear physics, is a story of meritocracy and upward mobility. He didn’t want to run the farm, he said, perhaps his brother that was deaf, could inherit the farm. Nick wanted to change the world. A fellow student at Oxford commented that he didn’t associate Neil’s Northern accent with intelligence.  He was right, of course, intelligence has nothing to do with accent, and upward mobility has nothing to do with meritocracy. Nick’s comments that Teresa May would never have become Prime Minister if she’s gone to an obscure polytechnic would have at one time seemed inflammatory. But Nick lives and teaches in Wisconsin-Madison. Before Trump, and the moron’s moron continual twittering, nothing has ever been the same again. Nick had a son with his first wife and later remarried Cryss. But in 63 UP he admits to having throat cancer. He’s intelligent enough to know what that mean.

In 56 UP, Nick admitted having long conversations with Suzy, who had appeared in eight of the nine episodes, but not in 63 UP. Suzy when asked about the series when she was a chain-smoking, twenty-one-year old, thought the series pointless and silly. By that time her father had died, she’d dropped out of school and been to Paris to learn secretarial skills. Her upper-class background true to form meant she was a pretty enough catch. She duly married Rupert, a solicitor and prospered as a housewife and mother of two girls and a boy. After 28 UP she glowed with good health.

Symon and Paul were the bottom of the heap in the first series of 7 UP in 1964. Symon was the only mixed race kid in the programme. His mother was white. He missed her when he was in the home. She just couldn’t cope with him, but later they became close.

Symon went to work in Wall’s freezer room. He had five kids and was married by 28 UP. He wanted to be film star. He didn’t know what he wanted to do. At 35 he was divorced and remarried. He remarried a childhood sweetheart. They met in the laundrette. She had a kid and they had a son. They fostered hundreds of kids over the years. If you take away the money Symon has been the biggest success story and has given the most.

Symon and Paul kept in touch and they reunited in 63 UP in Australia where Paul lived. He emigrated, following his father down under. Paul worked in the building trade. He was always one of the shy ones in the programme. He went walkabouts with his wife Susan, who thought him handsome and that he had a nice bum. They had a couple of kids and stacks of grandkids. Their daughter went to university. The first of their family to enter an institution of higher learning. Paul and his wife work together in a retirement home.

The 7 UP series tells us about ourselves. When it began the Cuban Missile Crisis had been played out the threat of nuclear annihilation had passed. Or so we thought. With global warming and tens of millions of migrants on the move, the threat of nuclear annihilation is more likely, but for a different reason, because countries divert rivers and tributaries and claim them as their own.

The jobs that each one did will be redundant. Self-driving cars mean taxing will be for the birds. Amazon are already delivering by drone. Any kind of administration is child’s play for artificial intelligence. The bastion of law and medicine is based on pattern recognition. We can expect the new Google to run our health service, or what’s left of it. Nick, the nuclear engineer, might not have much of a future. The future is green, totally green. Those Arab states that rely on the mono-crop of oil will become bankrupt almost overnight, like a Middle-Eastern Venezuela. Russia has long been bankrupt, but without oil it implodes. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the rest of us with it. Money flows from the poor to the rich at an increasing. rate, like an ever-growing, speeded up, Pacman creating new wealth and eating it up more quickly. We are left with dysfunctional politics, tyranny and chaos. The centre cannot hold. Our homes will be battery powered. Plants and trees are already solar powered. They shall become our new cathedrals. Scotland should be green by then.  That’s something a celticman appreciates.

 

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Naomi Alderman (2016) The Power.

the power.jpg

I bought this book when it first came out. I’ve picked it up and put it down a few times. It’s got an impressive list of broadsheets such as The Guardian who proclaim it ‘a big, page turning, globe-trotting thriller’ and a leading author of a dystopian future, A Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood,  calling it ‘Electrifying’. I read most of the 339 pages, missing out chapters, here and there, and scooting to the end, which I knew was going to be some kind of Armageddon.

The idea is a simple one. Rise and fall.  The world is turned upside down. We are no longer talking about his-story, but her-story. Women, all over the world, develop the power to discharge electricity from a skein in their body. Men can no longer physically dominate women in the same way that they couldn’t dominate a cobra. This physical inversion of women dominating men becomes much more pronounced and is translated into the social and economic realms. Men no longer run the world. Women do. End of… beginning of. A rewriting of history and religion in which patriarchy become matriarchy and men’s contribution to progress and civilisation is distorted, overwritten and erased. A new world order.

The Power of inversion is a grand idea.

The shape of power is always the shape of a tree…This is the shape of rivers leading to the ocean…It is the shape that lighting forms when it strikes from heaven…The same shape grows within us, our inward trees of nerves and blood vessels…Power travels in the same manner between people…

As it is written, ‘She cuppeth the lightening in her hand. She commandeth it to strike.’

from the book of Eve 13-17

The quasi-religious book is the new bible for the new age. Women can throw lightning- bolts from their hands, inflict pain and death. The roots of the evolutionary tree is not gender neutral.  Nine out of ten terminations are male because female children are wanted and male children an unnecessary expense.

But The Power fails for me, in fact, becomes boring, because the characters never get beyond the one dimensional. We begin with Roxy, head soldier of Allie, the prototype Eve. Roxy’s dad is a cardboard gangster and I was about 100 pages in before I realised Roxy was English. She was visiting the new women’s messiah in a convent somewhere in America. Allie’s got the measure of Roxy in a way no one else manages. She morphs into Eve. Cor blimey. Allie hears voices. I found that quite interesting.  Then there’s Margot, the second of the triumvirate of female leaders. She’s a politician. She speaks with a forked tongue. Ho-hum.

Lots of folk like this book. It was a New York Times bestseller. Read on.

 

 

Son of Saul BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, directed by László Nemes and written by Clara Royer.

son of saul.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00029kr/son-of-saul

This is a straightforward narrative. A Hungarian man finds the body of a young boy, he thinks is his son and he wants to give him a proper Jewish burial. To do so he needs to find a Rabbi willing to perform Mourner’s Kaddish.

Transpose that scene to an unnamed Nazi death camp, (Auschwitz), running at full capacity, murdering Jews and burning their bodies. Fling in the babble of languages – German, Hungarian, Yiddish, Russian, Polish, French, Greek, Slovak and Hebrew – and make your central character, Saul Auslander (Géza Röhrig) a Jewish Sonderkommdo. There’s a red X on the back of his coat and his job, as is the job of all survivors is to live as long as possible. He’s an old hand at it. Burying the young boy endangers not only him, but everyone around him. Scroll back.

Redemption comes when a miracle happens. A shipment of Jews are herded into the shower-room.  We hear the banging and shrieking as those inside try to escape from Zyklon- B gas. Sonderkommandos wait until ‘the pieces’ are dispatched, until they can get to work cleaning up. Pieces, are, of course, bodies. Saul’s job was, literally, picking up the pieces. And one of the pieces he picks up is his son, who is still alive, but dies later.

Nothing was wasted in the death camps, teeth extracted for gold, hair and even skin used for lamps. Eighty-percent of those arriving were processed immediately and send to the gas chambers. For some trainloads it was one-hundred percent and the ovens couldn’t cope.  Clothes recycled and the hunt for jewellery, gold and currency went on. ‘Canada’ was a place in camp where much of this reprocessing happened.

Euphemisms abounded and the film gets much of it right. While they can show the cruelty that was an integral part of the Nazi genocide, what they cannot show is how a body disintegrates without food and how crowded the camps were. They cannot replicate the stench of burning bodies. What they do well is show how many camps were situated in areas of natural beauty. Prisoners are shown shovelling ash (from bodies) into the nearby lake.

Son of Saul depicts, and indeed educates us, around the existential issue of what it means to be a man or a woman, what it means to be human, while giving no set answer. What it cannot do is legislate for stupidity and the cultivation of ignorance. A poll taken before Holocaust Memorial day on Sunday found that said the one in twenty Britons, say the Holocaust never happened. And eight- percent say the scale of the Holocaust has been exaggerated.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/27/one-in-20-britons-does-not-believe-holocaust-happened

The surprising thing about that poll is it doesn’t surprise me. The only exaggeration is how stupid these people are. But with the moron’s moron in the White House and the growth of right-wing neo-Nazi parties across the world, even in Germany, I don’t know whether you should watch this film or weep or look at the poll and weep. I tend towards the latter.

 

Citizenfour, Channel 4, 11.05 pm.

edward snowden

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/citizenfour

I missed the beginning of this programme, ironically because I was online. I spend too much time online. I’ve nothing to hide. Well, nothing much to hide. Here you have it. Everybody has something to hide. We can laugh now at the old-fashioned-spy networks of neighbours spying upon neighbours. You keep expecting Michael Caine to pop up in a John Le Carre thriller. It’s funny. An Orwellian world. Everything you say and do censored by the invisible other. Perhaps in North Korea we think. Think again.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning documentary follows Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s meeting with Edward Snowden in Communist Hong Kong and Communist Moscow. There we have it. Casting is destiny. The equivalent of Michel Caine going the wrong way through Checkpoint Charlie and back into East Germany. Edward Snowden is a spy both the CIA and FBI are on his trail. Here he tells us why.

It’s old new. Not very important. Not on any of the major channels, given a late television billing. Edward Snowden worked for the National Security Agency (NSA). He worked for NASA on software and as a solution consultant for the CIA. He’s white. A smart man. You can imagine he was very well paid and had an easy life. Yet he says ‘I believe in the rule of law’. He steals documents which were published by among others The Guardian which show clearly that the only law which matters is what a small elite group of believe to be in America’s interest. Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany’s phone, for example, was tapped. We can give a wry smile to that.

After all Angela Merkel isn’t American and she might have some connection with the 9/11 bombers that brought down the Twin Towers. The legislation brought in after 9/11 makes every non-America suspect. Patriots will understand that organisations such as the NSA will do everything necessary to protect the American people and American interests. Those Americans that don’t believe that are also suspect and they should be investigated. Nick Bostron in Superintelligence gives an example of machine logic. In its quest to create the perfect paper clip a computer takes control of the resources of the earth and its surrounding planets and produces nothing but paper clips because using a Bayesian algorithm nothing can ever be certain. The next paper clip might be the right one. In the same way Britain allows its ally to use its citizens and its resources to spy on others. All of the major corporation and hardware companies design their products so that NSA can gain access their data.

The metadata we produce leaves a clear pattern of what we do and who we are. It can be accessed remotely and content can also be read. Edward Snowden is saying that is not any kind of democracy he recognises. The NSA has files on 1.2 million Americans. Think of the resources needed. Think of the resources wasted. Operational overhang. Glen Greenwald was arrested and detained at Heathrow airport under the Detention of Terrorism Act. Obviously he’s suspect. That next paper clip might be the next one. That next paper clip might be you.