A topical film in the week the moron’s moron and 45th American President mistakes the woman he’s accused of raping as being his ex-wife. And you can’t rape your wife, right? Here we are in the sleaze pit of Fox News. Donald Trump has put himself forward as a candidate for the Presidency. Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) has primed herself to ask Trump some critical questions about his attitude towards women in the 2016 Republican debate. This was before, of course, he was reported to have admitted he liked to grab a woman by the pussy. What, of course, he meant, was poor women. Poor white women. Who can forget the moron’s moron gushing all over his daughter and admitting that he might have dated her? Kelly nails Trump for his misogynist attitude. But this is Fox News. White is right. Woke is wrong. And Trump is the coming Messiah. Kelly is good for their ratings. But she’s suddenly on the wrong side of the right.
She asks her boss, Roger Ailes’s (John Lithgow) advice. Aile’s boast is he is Fox News. His news channel made $1.3 billion profit. That’s the kind of leverage that allows him to joke with his staffers that James Murdoch has the kind of mouth that sucks cock. Rupert Murdoch owns Fox, but Ailes is king. Unlike the moron’s moron he doesn’t grab his subjects by the pussy, he invites them into his office. Reminds them who they work for. Asks them to show a bit of loyalty, show more leg, a bit of ass and pussy and suck his cock. That way they might get that promotion they’d hoped for. That way they might not get sacked. Droit du seigneur. And in Fox if you’re not a fox, you don’t get onscreen. You don’t get employed. Ailes makes sure of that. Any complaints go straight to the top.
Megyn Kelly does the right thing and the wrong thing. She bends the knee for the moron’s moron. Plays the game. She needs to keep her job. She’s got children to support.
Gretchen Carlson, (Nicole Kidman) Fox and Friends, is the eye-candy blonde of yesteryear. A former Miss America. Her looks fading. Her appeal fading. She’s demoted. It’s not called that, of course. Everything she does is wrong. She didn’t question the right of every American from cradle to grave to own and shoot a firearm, but wondered if each citizen needed their very own machine-gun. In a Fox Poll, 80% voted they did. She was out, but she was building a case against Roger Ailes. Her lawyers advised her not to sue Fox as she’d lose, but to bring a case against Ailes, which she’d probably also lose. We know she didn’t. She won $20 million in damages and a public apology from Fox. But that’s jumping ahead.
Megyn Kelly is treading water. Gretchen Carlson is out. Another beautiful blonde is climbing the corporate ladder to Aile’s private office. Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) is the next big thing or so she hopes. On the first day on The O’Reily Factor she mucks up. A staffer, Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) gives her some advice about the permanent outrage factor merged with the cynicism of an Irish beat cop in a brothel. She does more than that. She sleeps with her. Most shocking of all, she admits that she’s a Hilary Clinton fan. But when Kayla wants to ask her advice after she’d been invited into the inner sanctum of Alie’s office, Carr holds her hands up and tells her she doesn’t want to know any details. She needs to keep her job.
We know how this ends. It’ll be interesting to see how the moron’s moron’s rape charges end. In 2016, like Roger Ailes, Trump was untouchable. Can he be President again? No. Will he go to jail? Probably not. Murdoch and Fox will reluctantly fall into line. Profits before personalities. But Facebook gave him leverage. No Meta. No Russian bots. No Russian cash. No Russian rejoicing in the Russian White House when he was elected. Heart attack. For a man with no heart that should be something. No more Bombshells with the moron’s moron. We already know everything about him. Serial loser.
My partner recently had to go into hospital. The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, Accident and Emergency. It was recently slated for having up to a thirteen-hour waiting time. We know there is little point phoning for a GP appointment on the Tuesday, after a Bank Holiday. The phone will ring off the hook. My tactic to avoid this is go to the surgery window and wait to catch the receptionist’s gaze. We’re an ageing population with more money needed to be channelled into health care.
What we get instead is Thatcherite ideology of the market knows best. The market does know best. It knows best how to take money from poor people and give it to the rich. In this case Operose Health, which is a subsidiary of private healthcare firm Centene. In the United States their looting of welfare funds led to them being sued by a number of State bodies for fraud. They paid the fine, but, of course, didn’t admit guilt.
What we have here is a different kind of fraud. A rentier class, who are paid a fixed amount for providing a service where there is no risk to the rich. We also did it with trains. Subsidised other nation’s rain networks and it gave them a guaranteed income.
70 GP surgeries and 600 000 patients. Jacqui Wakefield logged 300 patients waiting to get through to her. And she couldn’t offer any GP appointments for any of them. One ruse was to offer appointments with a cheaper option. Put them in a white coat. Give them a fancy title. Work them with appointment after appointment so they do the equivalent work of two GPs. That’s called efficiency savings. In other words, profit for destroying the worker’s health and the health of the people he or she is trying, but failing to help.
A study of the equivalent of Norwegian GP’s, for example, found that the more highly qualified those practicing medicine the better outcome for the patient. Not only were they able to pick up early signs of disease and treat it earlier saving more costly treatments with knock-on effects at later stages. A virtuous circle.
A vicious circle looks something like this model. Underqualified staff. Clinical correspondence – medical reports, test results and hospital letters – that had not been read for up to six months.
In the Thatcherite model of health care, patients would be able to shop around for better treatment, where they weren’t treated to the indignity of having to spend days on the phone. Similarly, GP practices would compete against each other to bring in the brightest and best and innovate, while making a profit. In the same way we did with our prisons, or the probation service, before that was scrapped as being unworkable.
Scotland has largely rejected this carpetbagger model of modern finance. But the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was extended with many of the same principles. Give money to rich people for building something you could do cheaper and better with forward planning. We can clap NHS workers, while not giving them a pay rise and look for savings elsewhere. We know how this looks. It looks very much like the one rule for the rich and one rule for the poor of Centene and their ilk. Efficiency savings are only efficient if they end up in a tax haven. We all know how that feels. Because we’re all in it together. In George Orwell’s Animal Farm, ‘some animals are more equal than others’. Some patients are more valued than others.
Disasters always happen in some faraway place. Then we forget about them. Not right away, but gradually our attention fades and we move onto something else, somewhere else. Lucy Easthope’s job is not to forget or look away, but to search for patterns and lessons learned. She offers a personal account of what it feels like to miscarry a much wanted child, time after time (she calls them ‘Titans’) but still live in hope for a better outcome. None of us can be experts in living, but she did have children. Here she tells us what she does for a living; hope is in her name and nature.
‘I am one of the country’s top experts on disaster recovery. I am called to size up the scale of what is to be faced and what can be done about it. Police and local responders might only see one incident like this once in their career but I have seen them over and over again: nuclear incidents, chemical attacks, pandemics, food shortages, fuel shortages, trains and plane crashes, volcanoes and tsunamis. Companies, governments, countries, all have to be prepared for catastrophe.’
Many of us watched on telly Grenfell tower block burning. There was a palpable sense of anger, but anybody that had been paying attention knew what would happen—whitewash.
Lucy Easthope, ‘The White Dove’ begins the chapter in a jokey way with thirty-five vicars turning up for enlightenment. You can’t leave God to sort out whose who and what’s what in disasters like Grenfell, where Disaster Victim Identification can involve the dust of one victim mixed with the dust of another and various other cremated items. Easthope recounts the lessons of ‘torturing the dust’ of Ground Zero after 9/11 (carcinogenic in the air causing even more deaths for those working on the site). Science, particularly DNA testing and retesting and retesting can be itself a form of torture for the victim’s families, but she suggests there should be an end point, when they should be allowed to grieve and the community allowed to recover.
Easthope had a meeting scheduled for 13th June 2017. She planned to bring together theologians and scientists and the police and coroners for a full day’s event. The scenario involved twenty years’ experience gathered in the field and ‘the sum of all my fears’.
A tower block. The destruction of ‘the furniture of self’. Personal effects such as toothbrushes and passports would be gone. Some effects would be damaged. But these would have to be picked over by specially hired contractors over several months and may well be contaminated and disposed of.
The residents of the tower block would come from diverse backgrounds. There would be concerns from them over the shortcomings of local authorities, building enforcement agencies and gas-safety sign off.
The training exercise would involve loss of life, fire and a great deal of ‘forensic uncertainty’.
‘There would be cremains and dust. There would be the most complex of DNA challenges: hard-to-access samples and no clear biological kinship and a lengthy drawn out identification process. With human slavery and trafficking on the rise, we would also not know who everyone was in the tower. Lost and hidden people might be in there too.’
The training day, Easthope admits started badly and ended badly, with the bit in between going to form.
‘We will never see another Hillsborough,’ claimed one attendee.
Midnight, 14th June 2017. Grenfell Tower turned into a ‘burnt matchbox in the sky’.
‘In a grim echo of the scenario we had[not] explored in Exercise Unified Response, one woman heavily pregnant, lost her baby at thirty weeks.’
He was added to the death toll, bring it to 72 on February 2018 [cremains of those ‘slaves’ in the tower was not taken into account].
Being prescient is her job. Her work as an expert has been downplayed and government funding falling. Politicians more concerned about how it will look on their watch. Image is all. The Grenfell cover-up is only a surprise if you expected some other outcome.
When the Dust Settles deals with Covid, which Easthope also accurately predicted before it happened. It does not deal with the big one, which is easy to predict and its effects well documented. Global Warming and the coming apocalypse which is more of a certainty than any tower-block fire or Covid killing tens of million so far, which we can multiply by at least ten to the power of three or four in the early stages.
Dalmuir Diamonds is long gone. A boy’s football club I wasn’t part of, but knew about. Players aged nine, ten or eleven played on the gravel park at Beardmore Street in the early 1970s. The park paved over. Whenever anyone mentions Dalmuir Diamonds there’s that snigger and Bob Finlay’s name is mentioned. Bit of light-hearted bender banter. He was a janitor in the Community Education Centre boys got changed in and he was manager of the team. He was also a kiddy fiddler.
I took a similar light-hearted tone when writing about getting trials for Celtic Boy’s Club and standing there with my kit in a plastic bag and the manager picking the team and not having a clue who I was. I might well have wandered in off the street. My punchline was that I didn’t stay long enough and wasn’t even good enough to get sexually abused. Looking back to the under-15s team that Davy Moyes played in (along with some of my schoolmates, but not me) and we trained on the gravel parks at Barrowfield, there were two abusers there. One was Jim Torbett, the other manager of the under-16 team that included Charlie Nicholas, was Frank Cairney. He spotted me running off the pitch after a Thursday night training session. And he did a strange thing, although he didn’t know me and had never seen me before, he punched me in the stomach as I passed him. I didn’t think anything about it.
I played football for over thirty-five years, but didn’t win any Scotland caps or play professionally as these guys did. I played Welfare leagues for teams that needed bodies that were semi-ambulant and would pay two or three quid for a game. I loved it.
Andy Woodward, who played for Crewe Alexander; Former England internationalist, Manchester City and Liverpool forward Paul Stewart, who also scored in the FA cup final for a Spurs team that included Gazza and Gary Lineker; David White the new wunderkid at Manchester City who played for England; Ian Ackley who didn’t play professionally, Dean Radford, who played for the Southampton youth team; Dion Raitt, who played for the Peterborough youth team, and like all the other boys hoped to become a professional player; David Eatock at Newcastle United youth team; Colin Harris at Chelsea. All of these boys had the joy of playing the sport they loved and excelled at sucked out of them. They became different boys, different people after the abuse. Watching these three programmes, the pattern seemed similar to how Michael Jackson worked away from the bright lights.
Befriend the family and offer the dream. If your kid works hard enough, he’s going places. He’s already got the talent. All that’s needed is that bit of extra encouragement and tuition. Barry Bennell, sentenced to 31 years, for 50 counts of child sexual abuse, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases not coming to court hid in plain sight. He was the star maker for up-and-coming boy’s teams and had contacts with Manchester City and later provided a conveyor belt of talent to lowly Crewe Alexander. He indirectly propelled them and their up-and-coming manager Dario Gradi up the English leagues. Bennell was untouchable. He raped and sexually abused Andy Woodward, daily, while he was a schoolboy at Crew Alexander academy aged between eleven and fifteen. He married Woodward’s sister. That’s how convincing he was. Andy Woodward even wrote a letter exonerating and praising Bennell for his work with kids like him when he was arrested and sentence to four years in prison for child abuse offences Florida in 1995 after accepting a lesser plea of sexual molestation.
Thirty years later, 2016, aged 43, Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with Daniel Taylor, a sports journalist at The Guardian. He also spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. This had a catalysing effect so that others who suffered sexual abuse came forward with their own stories of abuse.
An NSPCC hotline, set up with the English Football Association money, but dedicated to ex-footballers who had experienced sexual abuse received more than 860 calls in the first week.
‘One of the texts we had was from a 13-year-old boy who was preparing to take his own life. He texted to say that, because of Andy, he was going to talk to someone.’
Paul Stewart also waived his anonymity. He spoke publicly of his ordeal after being abused by Manchester City youth coach Frank Roper. Roper told him he had to have sex or he wouldn’t make it as a footballer. Other kids were doing it too. Normalising behaviour. Holding the dream at arm’s length. Holding the shame inside. Roper threatened to kill his parents and brothers if he told anyone.
‘I had some highs in my career, but I never enjoyed them, because I had this empty soul,’ Stewart says. ‘I was dying inside. I masked it with drink and drugs’.
Frank Roper died before he could be brought to justice.
Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is filmed in an interview suite not answering question put to him by Hampshire Police detectives as they conduct interviews. Even more worrying, Higgins was the subject of a police investigation in the early 1990s, but the subsequent trial resulted in his acquittal. Dean Radford and Ian Ackley waived their anonymity.
Watching this programme it’s difficult to believe a jury would not convict Higgins. And whilst he was put on the sexual-offences register, he was not jailed. Dion Raitt, who was abused by Higgins at Peterborough in the mid-nineties sums up the belief that justice delayed is justice denied: ‘If they’d have got their justice the first time around, then I wouldn’t have even met him’.
Following a trial in which a jury couldn’t reach agreement, and a retrial, Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 24 boys and sentenced to 24 years in jail.
Derek Bell confronted George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United, who had abused him. He went to his door with a knife. Luckily for Ormond (and Bell) he wasn’t in. He later went back and recorded a confession from his abuser on a tape recorder hidden in his jacket pocket. Ormond was convicted in Newcastle Court of 36 sexual offences (I’d guess you can multiply that by any figure over ten to 1000) in a period spanning twenty years between 1973 and 1998.
Judge Edward Bindloss described Ormond as ‘wholly preoccupied with sex’ and said he ‘used his position as a respected football coach to target boys and young men in his care’.
George Ormond received a twenty-year prison sentence. A substantial sentence like the other paedophiles featured in the programme. Too little, too late, for many. Those abused lost not their dreams of glory, but their ability to dream. They lost their childhood, and the abuse cast long icy spikes into adulthood. These paedophiles, who still plead their innocence, stole their innocence. It makes me angry, really angry. Magnify that anger and multiply the shame those poor boys felt. That’s the way I create my characters and the way they walk and talk. Let’s hope they rot in prison. They’ve created a prison for their victims.
In my day Steve McQueen was the go-to guy if you wanted ride a motorcycle over barbed wire to escape the Germans, or rescue screaming women and children from a building skyscraper. We’re still waiting for the enquiry into Grenfell Tower, but we all know the score. Nothing much will be done, while the issues of class and race hatred will be quietly shunted into a side-line of something been seen to be done offscreen.
The black Steve McQueen is the new king of cool. He can do pretty much anything, (apart from ride a motorbike over barbed wire) and won pretty much everything, including an Oscar for best film, 12 Years a Slave. He’s part of the establishment and being given an OBE. He edited The Guardian’s The New Review to publicise his film anthology about historical injustices involving racial discrimination. BBC gave him a prime Sunday night slot for his drama.
Steve McQueen claims, ‘With Small Axe I want to reshape history’.
That sort of stuff doesn’t make me think of invading Poland, but of a joke in which Jesus answers a parable with a parable in which adulterous woman are going to be stoned.
‘If anyone is without sin, let them fling the first stone.’
And the Virgin Mary lobs a big rock.
Steve McQueen can’t walk on water. In the first episode of his series, Mangrove, depicts a true story about what happened in Notting Hill in early 1970s. His aim is to get under your skin.
Mangrove is the name of a West Indian restaurant opened by Frank Chrislow (Shaun Parkes) and closed, nine times in three weeks by the Metropolitan Police. Chrislow was following the dictates of the Enlightenment written in black and white in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations which extolled the righteousness of free enterprise, free from political intervention, government interference or legal restraint, ‘ruled by divine law for the ultimate being of all’.
Enoch Powell’s River of Blood Speech 20th April 1968 in Birmingham. ‘If they’re black-send them back.’ Remember that? Pre-Brexit, the threat of the black invasion. They were over here threatening our British way of life. ‘No blacks, No Irish, No dogs.’ It’s just as well we’ve moved on since them and we have Priti Patel as Home Secretary enforcing a policy of deporting refugees, equally, regardless of skin colour. Anyone sleeping rough can be deported back to their country, even if they’ve not got a country. It’s just best guess.
A cameo in Mangrove shows how that works. The rookie cop at Notting Hill station is playing at cards. He picks out the Ace of Spades. The other cops josh him, ‘you know what that means?’
He’s told that he needs to nick the first black man he spots.
‘What if he hadn’t committed an offence?’ the rookie cop asks.
In case you don’t get the Ace of Spades reference, we see the cops chasing a black guy and arresting him.
Frank Crichlow has committed even more of an offence. He’s opened a restaurant that sells spicy food such as goat curry. Worse than that it’s full of British people of West Indian descent that play cards and listen to music. In cop parlance that’s dealing drugs and running a prostitution ring.
Fling into the toxic mix Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) mouthy student, and leader of the British version of the Black Panthers. Add in Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby) whose study into black oppression suddenly includes his lover Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall) and their child threatened with being taken into care.
Show don’t tell is one of the rules of screenwriting (and writing in general). We can’t taste spicy food or curry, but we can listen to the music. We can see how the community lived. The before and the aftermath of police brutality and cover-ups. The laws that are suddenly dragged out of retirement home for white people to confront a lippy West Indian community. New laws made on the spot for troublemakers.
We see the ‘riot’. We follow the arrests. There’s even time to nip off and get a screenshot of Chrichlow’s white girlfriend in the mirror telling him to come back to bed. That’s a double-dunt, in case you missed it, he’s not racist—they are. The establishment is.
Nine black men and women, including Chrichlow, are tried at the High Court, the Old Bailey. Incitement to riot and affray. They face serious prison time. Judge Edward Clarke (Alex Jennings) is described the Defence Advocate as your typical bully boy. In a different age he might well have become Prime Minister. Here he’s presiding over a case where no one will admit they’re guilty. Cops are always right, even when they’re wrong. And it’s not the Mangrove Nine who are on trial but the British establishment.
Viewers know how it ends, but we watch anyway as all wrongs are righted, or something like that. Rishi Sunak occupies 11 Downing Street, he’s looking to upgrade and evict the buffoon next door, all the better to deport even more refugees, wanting something for nothing. Even Steve McQueen OBE would find it difficult to write that script. It’s got to be Grenfell, that would be my cry. Grenfell puts these stories into the shade.
Ali Smith is the same age as me and was born in Inverness, Scotland (for those of you that don’t know Inverness is in Scotland—yeh, that happens). She’s an international star whose writing is lauded. The Guardian, for example, called Autumn, ‘The novel of the year’. I stuck with Spring and read it from start to finish. I found bits of it a chore and probably wouldn’t have read beyond the first ten pages, but for her world renown.
I’ve made some notes, you might, or might not, want to have a quick read through. These would, usually, be the basis of a larger review. The major characters in these odysseys are seeking integrity, and mostly they manage it. I agree with the didactic elements listed below.
A simple journey from London to Inverness.
An obituary appears in the Guardian, …Patricia Heal nee Hardiman 20th September 1932-11 August 2018
The stories Mansfield wrote in Switzerland were her best (sanatorium).
Script about Mansfield and Rilke, literary giants. It’s mindblowing. 37
Virtue signalling problems, Richard tells his imaginary daughter. 27
Don’t talk about climate change or the rise of the right, or the migrant crisis or Brexit or Windrush or Grenfell or the Irish border…
Don’t be calling it migrant crisis…I’ve told you a million times. It’s people. It’s an individual crossing the world against the odds. Multiplied by 60 million, all individuals, all crossing the world, against odds that worsen by the day. 68
Dying is a salutary thing, Dick, Paddy says. It’s a gift, I look at Trump now, I see them all, the new world tyrants, all the leaders of the packs, the racists, the white supremacists, the new crusaders rabble-rousers holding forth, the thugs all across the world, and what I think is, all that too solid flesh. It’ll melt away like snow in May.
[cf Catherine of Sienna]
[cfDuncan Cambell (bent cop)
Sentenced by Mr Justice Melford Stevenson:
‘you’ve poisoned the well of justice for the crooks, cranks and do-gooders’ [who want to attack the police’]
…the fact that those two writers just living in the same place at the same time in their lives, whether they met or not.
This is the kind of coincidence that sends electricity through our lives. 99
People like feeling.
Some things that Britanny Hall learned in her first two months as a DCO at a UK IRC.
There are 30 000 detained in this country at any one time. 165
Detention is the key to maintaining an effective immigration system. 167
[ciphers not characters]
If the force of just five more nuclear bombs going off anywhere in the world happens…eternal nuclear autumn will set in and there’ll be no more seasons. 186 Florence Smith and the machine.
You can only legally detain someone in this country for seventy-two hours before you have to charge them with a crime. 204-5
Aldo Lyons (Auld Alliance) 271
235 recent escapes…detention estates.
I had no rights. I still have no rights. I carried fear on my shoulders all the way across the world to this country you call yours. I still carry fear on my shoulders. Fear is one of my belongings…
And the first thing you did when I arrived was hand me a letter saying, Welcome to a county in which you are not welcome. You are now a designated unwelcome person with whom we will do as we please 272
I picked up this book and put it down a few times. I doubt if I’d have read it, but for one thing—it was Bob’s book. He carried it around like a lucky rabbit paw in his rucksack (not so lucky for the rabbit) Mostly in the first 150 pages of the book, around the middle of the book, Bob scribbled messages to himself in biro He underlined words like Urbie and wrote things like ‘Visible From Space So We r Told’. Adding a tick mark to quote from the narrator to Sparky, ‘Here, who you calling a cunting heretic?’ I don’t know if Bob finished the book. I guess I finished it for him.
Mad, Bad, or Sad? 1990, According to TheGuardian headline, Five ‘cold-hearted and evil’ teenagers, from Skelton in Leeds, tortured and killed Angela Pearce, aged 18, who suffered from schizophrenia. The three girls and two boys showed no remorse when they were led away from the dock. Bernard Hare, the middle-aged narrator, known as Chop in the book, and his adopted son given the name Urban Grimshaw, visit the shallow grave where Angela Pearce was buried and leave a memento, a gold locket, at the site. Recognition that could have been them that did the torturing. Them that was tortured.
Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew—his brother Frank, Skeeter, Sparky, Sam, Pinky, Theiving Little Simpkins, Trudy, Cara, Molly, and Pixie with the exception of the Tyson, the dog, who was sold by Greta his mum for a fix, where mad, bad and sad. As we all are. We’ve gone to the dogs is the message of the book. It’s almost 20 years since Angela Pearce’s murder and Chop gave himself grief. He saved himself and the adolescent boys and girls that looked up to him for some kind of parental guidance.
Hare/ Chop is initiated into the Shed Crew and becomes one of them. Their unofficial leader and guru. I wasn’t overly convinced by the screeching tyres and stolen cars and the way they’d outfoxed the police. I was convinced the girls were sexually abused by nonces and the boys were thugs that stole and did whatever they could to stay one-up and alive. Hare, for example, has the reader believe, a fifteen-year-old Sparky, who was ‘built like a brick shitehouse’ and sets up home with Natasha, a schoolgirl who needs a good shagging and is straight out of the pages of Trainspotting, somehow also reads the collected works of Shakespeare for fun. Quotes, verbatim, from The Merchant of Venice, ‘do I not bleed…’. That’s just clichéd shite with a coating of literary havering.
And I certainly wasn’t convinced that twelve-year-old Urban fell into a sewer, then into the canal and Chop dived into save him and Tyson bit him. They both survived. Covered in pish and shite they went to Urban mum’s house, because it was closer. Chop also knew not much would be said. He’d been shagging his mum, Greta. And had taken the boy out to help on a few of his jobs, delivering stuff. Man and van. Man, van and boy, made a more interesting story with a moral punch. Urban was street smart and he’d warned Chop, because he liked him to stay away from his mum, because she’d destroy him.
Here was have the shtick:
He was twelve going on thirty-seven. Oddly enough, I was thirty-seven going on twelve. Maybe that’s why we got on so well.
The road trip from Leeds to Aberdeen is believable, as is the glue, butane sniffing, boozing, drug taking, and even the code of conduct. The 101 houses that Greta inhabits. Her madhouse where her children and their pals go to take drugs. Chop goes too. But he also offers a safe house for the kids to decompress and teaches them to play chess and be still. To be children for a while.
Hare is making a call to arms. He’s saying this shouldn’t be happening. We all know that. Just think what low-life David Cameron was thinking when he made that speech at the Conservative Party Conference telling a wailing audience of yahoos that he had a list of families in London that were costing the country millions. His solution, their solution, of course, was to cut them off. Cuts, cuts and more cuts. To make the poor pay. Chop does that too. Goes on mad rants, usually about Thatcherism and the empty promises of consumerism. We’re kindred spirits. The world he wants is the world I want. For those not in the know, this is a book worth reading. For the rest of us, a reminder how far we’ve fallen. Allegedly, the sixth richest nation on earth and we can’t even feed our children. Fuck, right off. You should be fucked off too. It’s not a read it and weep book. It’s a read it and understand, but as I said, I’m not sure Bob did read it. He was fucked up in so many ways and so wanted to be normal. Viscerally, I’m sure he understood. That could have been him. That was him.
20 Jan 2020 – USA has first confirmed imported case – From China.
20 Jan 2020 – COVID-19 included in Statutory Report of Class B Infectious Diseases and Border Health Quarantine Infectious Diseases in China – Measures to Curtail: Temperature Checks, Health Care Declarations, Quarantines – Instituted at Transportation Depots – Laws of China – Wildlife Markets Closed – Captive-Breeding Facilities Cordoned Off.
22/23 Jan 2020 – WHO decides not to yet declare the outbreak a PHEIC.
23 Jan 2020 – China observes Strict Travel Restrictions.
24 Jan 2020 – First Report of case in Europe – France.
30 Jan 2020 – WHO declares 2019 nCov (former name of COVID-19) outbreak a PHEIC – under International Health Regulations (2005).
11 Feb 2020 – The Virus and the Disease it causes officially named – The Novel Coronavirus named ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)’; The Disease it Causes named ‘COVID-19’.
27 Feb 2020 – WHO updates case definitions for COVID-19 for Suspected, Probable, Confirmed – Worldwide Surveillance Continues.
28 Feb 2020 – Nigeria reports first case of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa.
11 March 2020 – WHO upgrades the COVID-19 outbreak to a Pandemic.
A mother in a Lorrie Moore short story People Like That Are the Only People Here, jokes, ‘Healthy? I just want the kid to be rich’. We know what happens next.
Writers are readers. If they’re no readers they’re not writers. Here’s the story: We’re all in it together. In Burlington Care Home in Glasgow, thirteen elderly residents died in a week. Two of the staff test positive for Covid-19. All over the world Covid-19 has been behaving in the classic hockey-stick manner of epidemics plotted on a graph. We sit on the side-lines and clap our team, the NHS, care staff, all those on the front line. There’s good reason for this. Wearing gloves and a face mask doesn’t mean you won’t get sick – viruses can also transmit through the eyes and tiny viral particles, known as aerosols, can penetrate masks, but it does make it five times more unlikely.
With no football on, we’ve all become expert analysists, pitting our team against other countries. We know from the SARs 2003-4 in South Korea, most of the cases were in health workers. The pattern is repeated with Covid-19. Those who spend more time treating victims are more likely to become victims, especially if they don’t have proper protective equipment.
Other armchair experts claim it’s no big deal, no worse than seasonal flu. Herd immunity sounded feasible. This was the positon the moron’s moron President Trump took. Now he’s saying 200 000 American deaths would be a good score. The side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson took the same position as his senior partner in the Oval Office. Johnson is now settling for 20 000 British deaths after the first wave of the Covid-19 has passed.
Do the math. If borne out by further testing, this could mean that current estimates of a roughly 1% fatality rate are accurate. This would make Covid-19 about 10 times more deadly than seasonal flu, which is estimated to kill between 290,000 and 650,000 people a year worldwide. The population of America is around 250 million so if Covid-19 hockeystick trajectory continued as epidemiologist modelled with over 80% of the population becoming infected over 2 million Americans would die. In Britain that would be around 600 000 deaths.
As we’ve seen, even with these lower numbers our health services are working beyond full capacity with apparently mild cases overlooked and hockey-stick numbers growing exponentially. This is important because as Chinese scientist have confirmed these cases DO contribute to transmission and need to be socially isolated. Health Care workers such as those in Burlington Care Home did go into work. Tens of thousands of Care workers face that same dilemma.
Employers, until now, have created even more ways of punishing and sacking low-paid workers and depriving them of their rights. Care staff as disposable as bed-pans. Classed as self-employed. No holiday pay. No pension. Zero-hour contracts. Minimum wage is the maximum wage and ways such as not paying for travelling costs being used to deprive them of even that. Classified as agency staff and their minimum wage reduced by a third by paying their employers for employing them. Take it or leave it.
The future looks like the past. Imagine the Queen, Prince Charles and Camilla residents of Burlington Care Home. We’re all in it together. Under new NHS guidelines in England (this is Scotland you might argue) rationing or triage needs to take place. The Queen because of her age would not qualify for Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or qualify for a ventilator. Charles might get into ICU but because of a shortage of ventilators doesn’t receive incubation. Camilla qualifies for both. Are we really all in it together?
Let’s look at the league tables and cheer. Singapore is top of the table. China has flat- lined, it no longer has hockey-stick growth in numbers. Italy is doing most testing, but has the highest fatality rate. Spain is catching up with Italy in terms of casualties and testing. Germanic efficiency, doing everything by the book. It has been doing widespread testing of suspects with symptoms and contact tracing in the WHO-recommended fashion from the beginning of the epidemic. We’re at different stages of the epidemic. The UK death toll is currently higher than Italy’s at the same stage, reinforced by another showing that by this stage of the outbreak. Italy had begun to flatten its curve while in Britain the line keeps rising, the number of deaths doubling every three days. We’re not even looking at Third World Countries. Trump boasts he’s testing more than Britain, more than China. Those without healthcare or the capacity to treat victims know what to expect. We’ve all seen it before. More of the same.
When it ends, when it really ends, we’ll be back at the beginning, waiting for the second wave of the Covid-19. The golden bullet of vaccines, optimistically, look about a year away. Only about five major drug companies have the resources to manufacture the golden bullet if it was found today. Scaling takes time. First world countries would be first. Even the moron’s moron in the US has woken up to the need to test – and is telling companies that export, America must come first. Trump tried to buy a German company bio-tech company. Third world countries third, because you can’t go any lower. But here you create a reservoir population, ready to infect the rest of the world. Using an economic axiom, ceteris paribus: Changing the number of people tested, or who is being offered tests, will also affect the number of reported cases.
Moving forward to when, or if, we flatten the hockey-shaped curve, people need to return to work in stages. In Britain one effect of government rhetoric is the NHS is safe, even under the Tories that have been selling it off piecemeal, and depriving it of funds. Any hint of depriving the NHS of much-needed resources would be political suicide, but this is short-term.
Cast your mind back to 2010 to the unfunny Laurel and Hardy of Cameron/Osborne government, before their slapstick act of economic stupidity and self-mutilation called Brexit. Note the four doctors to have died so far are BAME doctors. Britain had to pay higher than other EEC countries for ventilators, for example, because they’re no longer part of the EEC and the pound is plummeting. Fifty percent of our food comes from imports. Crops will rot in the fields without immigrant workers. We import more than we export. Quite literally, we can’t go it alone. Our government knows this. But the then outgoing Labour Chief Secretary of the Treasury Liam Byrne left a jokey written message to his incoming colleague, the Liberal Democrat (remember them) David Laws: ‘there’s no money left’.
We all know what happened next. A detailed assessment showed that public spending was to increase in five Whitehall departments and to be cut in seventeen, beginning with welfare. What we used to call social security was gone. As over 1 000 000 people newly registered for Universal Credit have found out. Living on less than £100 per week is the new norm. While the British economy was flatlining in 2010, in the way we hope the Covid-19 will in 2020 the Tory government pursued a policy of taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. Tax cut. Tax cut. Tax cut. Privatise and cherry pick our NHS, stealth by the back door such as Virgin Health running mental health services. Yes, the same Richard Branson asking for a bailout for his airline. Private profit and dividend and tax cuts, whilst domiciled elsewhere. How does that add up with we’re all in it together? Those were also the words used by George Osborne and leave a familiar taste in the mouth.
Austerity was imposed on the poor in 2010, but not on the rich. They bounced back very quickly to 2007-2008 levels of capital wealth and an increased share of the GDP. The gap between rich and poor matched that of the Great Depression. Wages never recovered. Those in work and claiming benefits grew and grew. The working poor, those that work in, for example, care homes as carers were mocked as the scum of the earth. Junior doctors were labelled greedy. Nurses were chastised for demanding a pay rise. Loans instead of grants were the new norms for nurses training and numbers dropped.
Austerity in the twenty-first century. Covid-19 is a dress rehearsal for climate change, but one is now, the other deferred. In the same way, the $2tn US coronavirus relief package is doling out $60bn to struggling airlines and offering low-interest loans that are available to fossil fuel. Britain has in the words of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak effectively nationalised the economy. 10% of Britain’s GDP of debt and growing, £435 billion in Quantitive Easing (printing money) £200 billion up front to keep the economy temporarily afloat.
Writing in the Guardian, the economist David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College in the US and a member of the Bank’s interest rate-setting monetary policy committee during the 2008 financial crisis, said unemployment was rising at the fastest rate in living memory. UK unemployment could rapidly rise to more than 6 million people, around 21% of the entire workforce, based on analysis of US job market figures that suggest unemployment across the Atlantic could reach 52.8 million, around 32% of the workforce.
“There has never been such a concentrated business collapse. The government has tried to respond but it has no idea of the scale of the problem it is going to have to deal with. We make some back-of-the-envelope calculations and they are scary,” he said.
Unemployment looked to be at least 10 times faster than in the recession triggered by the 2008 financial crisis.
The Great Depression of the hungry thirties was ended not by fiscal stimulus, although that helped, but by the second world war. During the Depression years rich monopolists chaffed at government intervention in the economy and called for a return to lassez-faire economics. Sounds familiar. Listen to Thatcher’s ‘let poppies grow tall speech’. Reaganomics was just Thatcherism wrapped in a different flag. We’ve seen the same effect under Osborne/ Cameron. At some point in the aftermath of the pandemic hard choices will need to be made. Simple choices if you’re a Tory, you take money from the poor and give it to the rich. After all under Thatcher dogma, ostensibly, they are the creators of wealth. The keepers of our economic good health, but just don’t ask them to share. Trillions can be wiped from stock market shares, ten, twenty, fifty, seventy percent, yet a tax increase of 1% is met as if Armageddon has occurred. Then it did begin to unfold.
Ironically, the moron’s moron may well win an election not for anything he did or said, but because he’s a leader on TV screens and his popularity remains high especially among white, male, Republican supporters. Those most likely to die from the Covid-19 virus. Here Johnson is in social isolation. He has the virus. He is a viral infection. But he’s never been more popular. As an old Etonian when it comes to making hard choices of who gets what and why, well, that is easy, Thatcherism. Survival of the fittest. Tall poppies, like Branson. Survival of the richest. Poor people are there to be applauded, every Thursday, but not helped. There to be used and discarded. The backlash is coming and it’s coming soon. Expect no mercy from Tory scum. Don’t say I didn’t tell you so. If you think we’re all in it together you’ve been living on the moon and probably would vote Trump if you lived in America. People Like That Are the Only People Here. A choice between being rich, or being healthy, few of us get to choose. I choose life, but not stupidity.
I was shocked—well, that’s the wrong word, but I can’t think of the right one—that Deborah Orr was dead. She’s the same age as me, or would have been— Motherwell: A Girlhood was a message from beyond the grave. She died in 2019. She came from Motherwell. The title is a dead giveaway. And there’s a whole stack of her achievements listed on flyleaf with a picture of her, a haunting picture, in retrospect. Look at the cover image and, in contrast, a picture of Deborah aged around seven or eight, long hair, smiling for the camera, crinoline dress, blue and white pattern, white socks up to the knees and shiny white shoes. A proper little girl.
Deborah Orr’s achievements, including writing and editing for The Guardian, which at the time was as novel as a woman Prime minister, not because of her background, but despite it. One of the commonest tricks played on the working class is to point at the exception to the rule and say there’s one there. There’s a black swan. Upward social mobility is possible for those that work. My message to you and I’m sure Deborah Orr’s would be too is – fuck off. We’ve been moving backward to the dark ages bit by bit since the Thatcher/ Reagan revolution. An era when Deborah Orr escaped to the glory of a London squat, roughly, when this book ends.
Deborah was named after the film star, Debbie Kerr, her mother Win, loved all the glamour and glitter of Hollywood, but the grim reality is here in this joke the author loved (and I do too) about a Yorkshireman on his deathbed.
‘Steven? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Dad.’
‘Mary? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Dad.’
‘Bethany? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Grandad.’
‘Aaron? Are you here?’
‘I’m here, Grandad.’
‘Then why’s the hall light on?’
Here’s one of your markers if you want to apply for your passport to poverty. I laughed out loud, while recognising my da skulking in the hallway waiting to pounce because I was on the phone. ‘That’s no a piano,’ Dessy, my da said.
The memoir is structured around memento mori. ‘The Bureau, Baby’s First Haircut, The Wedding Clippings, The Dolls…The Dope Box, Letter to Crispin, Untitled, The Last Vestiges of John’.
‘I loved Win’s wide black velvet belt, so tiny that she kept for years, a reminder to herself of her lovely curvaceous figure, “before I had children”.’
John was Deborah’s dad, the centre of his world. He was the baby of a family of five, as was her mum, Win, who was English. Win was under five-foot small, but gorgeous, everybody said so. John was luck to have Win, Win was lucky to have John. They all lived happy ever after isn’t much of a story.
‘John and Win met, and had their miscegenated, cross-border romance because of the war. Without the war, I was always told I wouldn’t have existed.’
When Deborah recalls three increasingly brutal rapes by different men—the playful rape at University, if you don’t squeal, I won’t tell; to the accidental rape, you’re sleeping, so I’ll just fuck you because we talked earlier; to the hands on the throat and you might never live to tell the tale—and her mother’s surprise that sex could be pleasurable and not something done to you, then her mum sides with the rapists. She sides with women jury members that found rapists and murderers such as Peter Manuel not guilty because women shouldn’t have put themselves in such a positon to be bludgeoned.
The natural positon of women was to think of Scotland, or even England in her case, when John, a good man, forced himself on her. Her wee brother David was brought up with different expectations, he’d go on to make his mark on the world. John and Win were great believers in the natural order of things. No Catholics, no blacks, no dogs as landlords used to mark on the front door even though dogs couldn’t read.
John couldn’t read either, not really. Like many others he’d left school at twelve or thirteen to earn scraps of money. Motherwell was built on steel and coal. Ravenscraig once employed 14 000 men and was the most efficient steel makers in the world. He became part of the working-class aristocracy when he got a job in Colville, girder makers, prior to nationalisation at the age of fifteen. He even became a heroic figure to many hardened by the noise and daily grind, when he pushed a man aside and away from a red-hot girder that had slipped its chains and would have slipped through his body just as easily. Health and safety was still to be invented.
Deborah believes he suffered from post-traumatic-stress disorder and that’s what led him away from the life mapped out for him—to Essex and Win—and back again. John returned to Motherwell with his beautiful bride to working class life and the hope of a decent council house.
Win had a believe common to most rich folk, in what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is mine. Her father, John, as protector and saviour, aided her in this belief. His hates were his hates and vice versa. John, for example, had mates whom he thought ‘the sun shone out of their arse’, then it didn’t shine very much. Then it was them that was the arse. He ditched them. And he waged petty hate campaigns against his neighbours.
A conversation I heard today goes something like this, ‘They’ve just moved into the house for five minutes and noo they’re getting everything.’
I’ll translate. My neighbours are getting a new path. The same as other council house tenants. Imagine they were black, or homosexual or even worse English.
Deborah suggests her mum suffered from a narcissistic personality. She wasn’t a sociopath such as the moron’s moron Trump, or little Trump, Johnson, but she recognised the same self-centredness and hate. As long as Deborah remained a child and under her mother’s thumb, she was a good girl. Nobody hates so much and as well as the Scottish and we’ve got long memories. Win fitted right in. Win-win. But I couldn’t quite forgive Win and John for voting Tory. Voting for Thatcher. But I guess that makes sense. Deborah’s life ran in a separate trajectory to mine. The same, but different. RIP.
Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, tells the story of how he went from spike to spike and from town to town. The hungry and downtrodden were given a few slices of bread and some sweet tea. A bed for the night. Moved onto to anther town. They were not allowed to settle. Moved on to another town, a circuit of homeless, hungry men and women moving in an ever-expanding circuit of misery. This was the nineteen thirties. The Beveridge Report and full employment meant the citizens of Britain would be taken care of from ‘cradle to grave’.
Fast-forward to the seventies of high unemployment and stagflation. This is my era. I was on the buroo. Can’t say it bothered me much. I’d a home and family. One of my mates who got a diagnosis that suggested he might want to start looking at funeral plans gave me one of those: ‘I’ve worked all my day’s’ speeches beloved of Jeremy Kyle.
I had to stop him. ‘No, you didnae. You were there when Hamish (R.I.P.) scored a screamer when we the Unemployed club played another club at Milngavie.’
I had to remind him that I’d also been on the Job Creation scheme and I loved it, meeting good people, doing a wee bit and getting paid a wee bit extra.
I knew how the buroo worked and didn’t work. It was part of our non-working life. When I hitchhiked down to London, summer 1984, and moped about for a few days, and slept outside, I remember an advice worker walking across the road near Euston station and talking the DSS into giving me an emergency payment for accommodation. The DSS system was a patchwork quilt of different benefits.
Read Kerry Hudson’s books but, in particular Lowborn, to see how the system didn’t work very well, but at least was a safety net for women and children. Read Sue Townsend’s article in The Guardian to give you a feel of how things were before the safety net was torn away.
Every time I hear the figures for unemployment are continually dropping I listen to a lie. If you’ve read Sue Townsend or Kerry Hudson’s books, you’ll know that mothers suffer most from any changes to the benefit system. Townsend had to wait a week to get paid. Those were the good old days. Nowadays we can be talking three months. We didn’t used to have foodbanks. Now we do. For those that begin the day in debt and end the day in even greater debt to be told their claim will be sorted in three months is beyond rational belief.
250 000 officially homeless in England, 130 000 of them children. By 2023 an estimated seven million people will, according to government reports, rely on Universal Credits.
Universal Credit (UC) is based on the American model of deterrence. Welfare is a dirty word. People claiming are held at arm’s length by overworked staff. Universal Credit gave us the Windrush scandal. In order to qualify for benefits people have to prove who they are. Claimants have to have the right bits of paper, or else not only will they not receive any delayed benefits. They may also be deported.
Universal Credit also has a housing benefit element. Often the largest part of the payment to the claimant. Bureaucratic delay can often lead to landlords not being paid on time, or at all. Because the housing benefit is paid directly to the ‘customer’ to pay to his/her landlords such as housing associations also lose income, because people simply spend the money allocated (their benefits) and don’t pay their rent. The old system of paying the landlord directly helped those that couldn’t handle money, but it also helped agencies such as housing associations to continue with their work.
If we look at Declan, for example, who has been made homeless and is sleeping in a park—nobody cares. Or Ernie, who lives in the flats in Dalmuir without electricity and is reliant on foodbanks, but is expected to go online and jobsearch for 40 hours a week. The chances of that happening are zilch. He has no phone. No mobile. One sanction follows another. His money is stopped. He appeals and during the appeal process is given a little money. Nobody cares. It’s top-down government policy based on stripping away any rights the poorest of the poor have to a life. This is us now.
The Social Security Staff that used to sit behind screens no longer exist. It’s an open-plan office and they are now just as poorly paid as Townsend’s time but are now called job coaches. Most of the misery lifting is done before their clients of customers come in the door. Job coach’s job is to sell a lie. Their job is to sanction customers. Their job is to make sure those that can’t work are made so miserable they no longer attend their office or they find work—of any kind. Their job is to make sure they have a job, because they know the alternative. The down on their luck story is no longer an option.
We used to have a system of carrot and stick. Neil Couling, director general of Universal Credit the person responsible for keeping the reforms to benefits on course will give us the usual party line. Now it’s no carrot and works by using the stick. Let me paraphrase Jaroslav Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk, who when duty called walked in circles and agreed to everything and having no idea, had a fair idea how the system was supposed to work for the patriot and little person.
There’s no doubting that a good officer had the perfect moral duty to beat his batman to death to enforce discipline and doing so twice was to be commended. And military doctors had a perfect moral duty to root out malingerers that feigned blindness and deafness and having only one leg by starving and beating and forced purging which killed many and cured others. Recent estimates suggest 5000 people die while awaiting their appeal for sickness benefit, which is rolled into the umbrella term, UC.
Universal Credit gives beating of a different kind, but no less harmful. No one with oodles of cash was hurt in the making of this policy. George Orwell would have recognised it at once. Class war.