Darren McGarvey’s Class War, Episode 1, Identity Crisis, BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer, presented by Darren McGarvey.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000s7hd/darren-mcgarveys-class-wars-series-1-1-identity-crisis

Darren McGarvey from Pollock admits he’s lucky, incredibly lucky. And he’s right to do so. He’s on a roll after Poverty Safari. The go-to man when the BBC, or any other media organisation, wants to signal that they’re doing the right thing. Giving the working class a voice. The equivalent of a black woman in the moron moron’s cabinet of his 45th American Presidency debacle. The alternative view. The Fool in Shakespearian plays, such as King Lear, who is allowed to speak truth to power. Invisible, but a place holder. Greta Thunberg addressing delegates at the United Nations, patted on the head, before they get back down to adult business of maintaining the status quo. Class War?

Not in my lifetime. Capitulation would be a better word. All the post-war gains since the second world war taken away. Marxism, is like liberalism or capitalism, difficult to summarise, but Marx argued that the point wasn’t to philosophise or interpret the world, ‘but to change it’.

The crudest formulations of class are clichéd.  If I working class man throw dice and keep throwing double sixes. Then the dice are taken to be loaded. The system flawed. He’s regarded as a crook. But if an upper class man throws six after six after six. Dice aren’t taken to be loaded. The capitalist system not flawed. When actors such as Darren pop-up they are pointed at as the exception to the rule-rule. They show how fair the system can be.  The end of history. The end of theory. The triumph of capitalism.

But clichés are also reservoirs of meaning. Darren flings out a few ideas and asks various characters—one of whom looks out of his face—what their thinking is on particular topics. ‘Buckfast’, for example, brought a satisfying chortle. Lower class, of course. But hey, it used to be a tonic wine, for middle-class folk.

I like the parody of class that features in The Frost Report: John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00hhrwl

The first thing to be noted is height. The upper class with better diet and access to proteins lived longer. Literally, walk taller. Those that own the land, own the people on the land. Windfall profits of billons for our monarch who also owns large tranches of our offshore sea, where windfarms will be situated. If you need to work for money, you’re in the wrong game. Money for the richest one-percent makes money by investing capital. After reaching a certain mass it’s a no-lose gain. It’s in all of Belzac’s books. And try a bit of Jane Austen. I’m a fan of Emile Zola, although he has a tendency to assume the working class get more sex and are sexually active earlier. Maybe they are. I must have missed that bit.

  Darren gets pulled up about his posture. Watch any programme about long-lost families. You’ll find those that went abroad, including those transported to Australia, are taller, more muscular. Fish and cheap cuts of meat for the less well off at home. Starvation is back in fashion in Old Blighty. Food banks as a solution to hunger. In Shakespeare’s day people that got to around thirty-eight were the equivalent of our old age pensioners. Thirty-nine was ancient. Gladstonian liberals allowed for a pension for those aged over 65 in 1909. Less than a fraction of one-percent of the population was expected to live that long to collect it. We know now that is no longer the case and pension age has risen to over sixty-eight. But for the first time since records began the average age of British citizens has stopped increasing annually. It’s a class thing. A working class thing. Our babies die first and in greater numbers than their middle-class or upper class cohorts. A negative impact that carries on throughout life.  Like those infected with Covid-19 we’re dying off quicker and pulling down the average age of our general population.  

The second thing to be noted is dress. Darren plays that dressing up game too.  All of our characters wear hats. The upper class character wears a bowler. A marker of rank. Bowler hats were a useful tool in preventing directors, such as Stevens of Steven’s shipyard, knocking his head. His father would have worn a top hat. Workers in the yards didn’t wear hats. Their heads were thicker. They wore overalls.  

Winston Churchill wore a top hat to his public school. Accent speaks of breading. Churchill was regarded as a bit of a thicko. But he had the right kind of accent, Received Pronunciation. He famously barked at an opposition Labour MP to take his hands out of his pockets. And as a reflex action to the upper-class demands the MP complied.  Here a butler is brought in to give Darren the once over when he’s dressed as a toff. The butler demands he take his hands out of his pockets and pull his socks up. Ho-hum, bit of playing to the camera.

Then we have the big reveal. The butler reveals he’s one of us. He’s working class. But he worked harder than everybody else at learning to be a butler. He got up to bed earlier. Went to bed later. He’s using Thatcheristic language reiterated by George Osborne in his debate about ‘strivers versus shirkers’. The universality of a Dickensian appeal to an imagined past that never existed. One hand destroying the welfare state, and the other clapping NHS workers, before crashing the economy into Brexitland and calling it a triumph.

Darren does cricket. I’m working-class enough to hate it. Just a little reminder here, wasn’t that the Malcolm Rifkind that was caught selling access to our British Parliament for ready cash? Cash for questions?  Like the whisky priest in Father Ted I can’t help jumping out my chair and shouting ‘Tory Scum’, and for good reason. In a propaganda war they set out to destroy us, and largely succeeded.

Darren touches on it with the seeming contradiction of the ever-shrinking working class.   Two-thirds of the population at the end of the nineteen century to around a third today. A mix and matching of definitions of what is meant by the working class relating to income. Weberian definitions as opposed to Marxist definitions where those that need to sell their labour are authentic working class. The proletariat. Academics toyed with these ideas in the sixties, the embourgeoisement thesis. Luton car workers because they were so well-off were the new middle class. Yet, when interviewed they claimed still to be working class despite having enough money to be considered bourgeoisie. Ronnie Corbett instead of wearing a bunnet would wear a flat cap and vote Tory. Corbett’s working class character, ‘I know my place’. You hear that kinda crap all the time, rich folk have money and they must know how to manage it. The answer is simple. By claiming working class origins, the middle (or indeed, upper) class gain greater kudos for achieving what they have achieved. They’ve rolled more sixes in life because of their skill. Look how far I’ve come, narrative.

Funny, until you consider 170 million Americans voted for the moron’s moron, and ‘red wall’ constituencies in deindustrialised areas such as Yorkshire voted for the equivalent here and for Boris Johnson and Brexit. Racist, dog-whistle politics, triumph. Eugenics is back with a bang, but dressed up in the clothes of morality.

In short, follow the money and the stories of machismo. Boris Johnson shouting through a microphone about returning £165 million a week to the NHS, while pedalling the same old bullshit as the moron’s moron, the other side of the Atlantic, about making America great again.

Marxism follows the evidence. Going against the grain. Prejudices are so engrained they need to step back and look at them.

Gramsci’s view of popular culture. Class is ideology in action. Pattern recognition of narrative the stories we’ve been told again and again until they have substance. Truth is relative.

 Cul-de-sac of boring, often impenetrable theory to develop ideas of what is meant be class. Premises, methodology, perception.  Examining the ideas behind our assumptions. We better be quick talking about class before we all become middle class tomorrow.  

Darren examines the idea of marrying outside our class. It happens less often. Money becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands Remember 7:84, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil?   The history of Scotland in Brechtian theatre. How our sovereign wealth went to pay for Unemployment Benefit in Thatcher’s Britain in the mid-80s. Eighty-four percent of the land owned by seven percent of the population. We’d expect that figure to be a lot higher, now. And with green energy relying on having access to land, we can also expect those that hold the people to ransom, the capitalist and rentier class to become even richer. Thomas Piketty Capital in the Twenty-First Century documents this process. To be working class is to be powerless and treated as expendable scum. I’m not sure I learned anything here. But it’s a reminder of how far we’ve fallen. More of a hotchpot rant than a review. But this class stuff gets in my wick.

Darkest Hour, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, Director Joe Wright, Writer Anthony McCarten.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000j4wd/darkest-hour

Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. A snapshot of the leading Tory M.P.’s gilded life in May 1940. The phony-war stage at Blighty, where the British bulldog is the underdog. War had been declared and troops had been sent off to fight in France and Belguim, before falling back to Calais and Dunkirk.  German Panzer division and blitzkrieg tactics roll through Eastern and Western Europe. Churchill, finally gets what he most covets, the chance to lead the nation and become Prime Minster. Here it’s portrayed as a poison chalice.

Neville Chamberlaine (Ronald Pickup) after coming back waving a piece of paper, the Munich Peace Agreement with Hitler was no longer the man to lead a national coalition government with mainly Labour M.Ps. He’d also got cancer, which would shortly kill him. The Conservative Party, of which he is leader, all agree on the anybody but Churchill option. Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane) an old Etonian, friend of King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) seems the right sort of chinless wonder needed to lead a divided nation. But Halifax isn’t keen, Britain is broken, a German victory inevitable, and he turns the job down. The King is also not keen on Churchill, who’d backed his brother Edward VIII as King, only for him to abdicate and marry an American divorcee. Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor apart from being notoriously mean, committing acts of fraud and treason can hardly be condemned for falling in love and acting like any other King.  Churchill’s many failings, including losing an army at Gallipoli were trotted out.  As was his boozing, if he didn’t have a glass of whisky in his hand, he had a glass of champagne, or some other alcoholic drink.

(This was a later advantage at Yalta when dealing with Stalin, who also did most of his work during the night hours and insisted on endless toasts. More than one British aide ended up unconscious with drink and had to be carried away, but Stalin and Churchill continued dividing up Europe while Franklin D. Roosevelt looked on, also with glass in hand, ready to cut a deal.)

Roosevelt plays a bit part on the phone. Stalin’s USSR is at that time was aligned with Germany and they were not yet our allies. Churchill in desperation for war supplies phones FDR, who promises the British Prime Minister, nothing much but grudging vocal support.   

Churchill was reminded that second to the King the Prime Minister’s office was the most powerful position in Britain. Hokum of The King’s Speech variety that by properly articulating some words on the radio, King George VI, who had a stammer, was able to deliver and rousing speech and save the nation.

Darkest Hour is the same film, but Churchill has no stammer, was in fact a former journalist that as Prime Minister employed six secretaries in sixteen hour shifts to take down his notes and ideas. Here we have one secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) always on call, day and night, in awe of Churchill’s brilliance, but also afraid of him. He even dictates to her when in the toilet, which lacks decorum. A tactic also used by former President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, but in this case to manipulate and intimidate those below him. Let them know their place in the world. In Darkest Hour, it’s a bumbling, comic, note.

Somehow Churchill has to make his mind up and write a speech about ‘fighting them on the beaches, fighting them on the…’ and end with that bark of ‘Never, never surrender!’  But he’s been undermined by the snake-oil salesman Halifax, who wants to cut a deal with Hitler, through official channels with Mussolini’s Italian diplomats. With Chamberlain he has prepared the stab in the back and was waiting for the right moment. He could be in fact be playing Boris Johnson to Prime Minister David Cameron, pre-Brexit, offering his whole-hearted backing.  All around Churchill are enemies.

Then Churchill goes to the people, takes a subway ride. Foreshadowing, in an earlier scene he admitted to having never being on the subway. Stalin did the same thing on the Russian subways system build by slave labour. Crowded by curious onlookers wanting to shake his hand. On the London Tube, Churchill asks the honest commuters, what would you do if the German’s arrived.

‘Fight!’ says a woman.

‘Fight!’ says a man.

‘Fight,’ says a black man.

We know, of course, Churchill advocated that the Post Office and public bodies should not employ black people, but here he was having a chat with the young fellow, who tipped his hat to the British bulldog and said he too would, ‘Fight’.  He’d find it funny fighting on the streets of London (where people spat on him, told the nigger to go home and wouldn’t rent him a house).  A politically correct symbol of Britain’s glorious Commonwealth. 

The clincher was the little school girl. She wasn’t to be left out. She wanted to fight too.

 Vox populi, the people had spoken. Churchill got the answer he wanted to a question he was asking himself. What would you do?

I know what I’d do, I’d get rid of all war metaphors and sack all Tories from office, starting with the charlatan-in-chief, little Trump, and biographer of Churchill, leader of the war cabinet against the Covid-19 virus, Boris Johnson.

 Vox populi, the people has spoken. ‘Stay Alert’. The people of Scotland have spoken.  I wish politics and life was that simple.

The Piety of Hand-clapping

Piety, as we all know, is a quality of being reverent. We usually associate it with religion. Etymologically, it comes from Latin and is related to dutifulness.  It’s not often I’ve seen ideology in action. People coming to their front doors and clapping their hands and supporting the NHS. Our NHS and the support workers. Care workers and what we used to call auxiliaries. Only to find we’re all auxiliaries. A writer’s job (even a would-be writer) is when we look along the line of common humanity and listen to the cheering and the clapping to take a step back and shut our ears and look for the cross beams and the creaking of the gallows.

I’m not alone in remembering the vacant eyes and the Oxbridge braying of the Conservative elite when their backbenchers cheer when it’s announced that nurses that will not receive a pay rise. Or an invocation of the Thatcherite spirit, when the Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt branded junior doctors greedy because new contracts were even worse than the non-contracts they had — in which they agreed to work a squillion hours unpaid. Why now the halo of heroism for largest sector of the economy, largely female carers, where the minimum wage is the maximum wage and there’s no time for caring?

Humiliation after humiliation should be branded on our forehead like the tattooed numbers of the women in Auschwitz—work makes you free—those of us that dare to be poor and keep having the wrong kind of children – poor children.

We’ve retreated from politics, squabbled among ourselves and let our so called betters like Boris Johnson get on with it. After all Boris is one of us. He battered his girlfriend, the police were called, but he denied it. Got her pregnant and went on holiday when he should have been at work. Now he’s got the Covid-19 virus and is still working away in his bunker that will allow him to come away with more Winston Churchill quotes about us ‘all being in it together’.

When we’re clapping, we’re not clapping him, or his ilk. We’re clapping ourselves on the back. We’ve came through 30 years of Tory dogma and 10 years of bleeding austerity.  It’s not just Covid-19 that makes us sick, but Tory promises fill us with a rich sense of foreboding.  Covid-19 isn’t going anywhere. Boris recognised the business-as-usual model would lead to tens of thousands of—mainly old folk (with a higher proportion of men, for some unknown reason, unless god really is a woman)—and he rejected that model. The moron’s moron is quite willing to take that risk, but had to be pulled back from the brink of stupidity, which for him is as high as a three-year-old boy’s knees.  

The business as usual model is based on taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. A increasingly widening gap between those that start their day in debt and those that finish the day in more debt and those that hold all the debts and all the cards and tell you to clap. That’s successful ideology for you, the sullen recognition you’ve been used. You’ve been dehumanised, treated as something that needs reined in. And you’ve embraced that choke collar as a necessary evil.

Keep clapping, but when the clapping stops, you’ll know what to expect. You’ll know who the enemy within will be. It’ll be you that’s being unreasonable. You that isn’t listening. You that need to be locked up. Keep clapping. But watch yourself. Look for the cross beam and listen for the creak of the gallows.  

The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, directed by Tim Kirby and David Ross.

empire windrush.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00068sk/the-unwanted-the-secret-windrush-files

Historian David Olusoga investigates the story, behind the story, of the Windrush Scandal. He unearths government papers to show the duplicity and hypocrisy of the British Government in creating ‘a hostile environment’ for those considered undesirable because of skin colour.

Who can forget Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists? Enoch Powell and his ‘river of blood’ speech? Powell had conveniently forgotten he’d been to Jamaica to recruit nurses for the overstretched NHS in the early 1950s. Or the Smethwick election of 1964, which the Conservative candidate won using the message, ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’?

A hostile environment wasn’t some ruse thought up by the then Home Secretary, Teresa May. It has a long lineage and includes both the creator of the NHS, Clem Atlee and Winston Churchill. The latter wanted to fight an election using the rubric of Smethwick and elected Prime Minister in early 1950s  worked to ensure public institutions like the Post Office didn’t employ non-nationals (i.e. ‘niggers’).

Ukip and Brexit are rooted in a picture of the British Empire in which everyone knew their place. And stayed where they were.  Empire Windrush, a decommissioned ship, taken from the German navy was returning to England from Kingston and didn’t want to return to London empty, so advertised for passengers. 350 Jamaican and British Commonwealth citizens paid their fare and arrived in Tilbury docks on the 22nd June 1948 to be met by the media. They thought they were coming home to a place where the streets were paved with gold. They didn’t know they weren’t wanted. If they’re black, send them back was unofficial policy.

The government favoured displaced European, such as former Waffen SS, and those that couldn’t speak English but where white, for absorption into the working population. Unofficial surveys, such as those taken in dole offices, a week after the Queen’s coronation in 1953, were snapshots that were meant to show that coloureds were sponging off the British state. Chief Constables in our major cities were asked to provide data showing the extent of the coloured problem and the relationship with criminal behaviour. Here we have the crude eugenics of the early twentieth-century resurfacing after Auschwitz and given a new emulsion coat of paint.

Ironically, the threat of no longer allowing those Jamaicans that held a British passport entry into Britain created a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the end of the 1950s immigration to Britain had slowed to around 15 000 to 20 000 a year. Let’s put that into context, official figures in post-war Britain claimed to need an extra two million additional workers. In 1960 and the threat of their British passports become invalid, around 500 000 people travelled to Britain from the Caribbean and Jamaica.

Many of those features in this programme were the children of those that had travelled in the first wave of immigrants to Britain from Jamaica. It was these people that had been reunited with their parents, went to school here and worked here for thirty, forty or fifty years that were caught in the ‘hostile environment’ which conflated two ideas in a toxic mix: austerity and immigration. A system that sought to blame the former on the latter. A propaganda war in which the poorest are always culpable. A Kafka like system of bureaucracy that sought to fulfil targets and treat people as things and not as individuals. None of those featured in the programme could provide the documentation that said, categorically, they were British Citizens. No government official appeared to explain how it all worked. After all, if it’s politically expedient and they were black, send them back.

Their stories of our shame feature here. Olusoga stands outside Lunar House a place where those deprived citizenship, no longer allowed to work, not allowed to access our NHS when ill, not allowed to claim government benefits. Incarcerated – indefinitely. Think about that for a minute. Lunar House with 500 000 on its closed books. Gulags of anxiety.

But there is another landmark that Olusoga should have visited. Grenfell Tower. The blackened remains in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in London, tells us everything we need to know about the un-United Kingdom.

 

Matt Haig (2015) Reasons to Stay Alive.

reasons to stay alive.jpg

This is a short enough book to read in one, longish, gulp. It begins with an admission Matt Haig makes about 2014.

Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen.

I was going to die, you see. Or go mad.

There was no way I would still be here. Sometimes I doubted I would even make the next ten minutes…

One of the key symptoms of depression is to see no hope. No future.

A book about depression need not be depressing. We all nod at the statistics; one in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem. Then there’s the call to list people who suffered from depression to show how normal it is. Matt Haig does it. Gawp at pages 166-168 which list some celebrities. We all know about, for example, Princess Di and Winston Churchill and the black dog of depression. I didn’t know about Halle Berry. I wasn’t shocked. I don’t really care enough to be shocked. I’m indifferent. I’ve a knee-jerk reaction to Tories like Churchill, but depression humanises him. When I hear about somebody committing suicide I don’t find it that weird, or strange. Life is like that. Diseases like depression and dementia are democratic. It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you do, or how much money you have, you can suffer from depression. You can get dementia.

I also like Haig’s admission that depression can be strength rather than a weakness. It’s a perspective that offers futility as a starting point and humility as a finishing point. When you think you are, the worst you can be, then that warped vision sometime allows you to see other’s clearly.  Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression all his life. It wasn’t black and white, but a humaniser in inhuman times. Lincoln, like Churchill, was a leader, not a follower of fashions.

Haig offers Reasons to be strong. We know them, family, friends…but it’s the kind of reminder you get at AA meetings. One slip and its downward. Here we’re talking to the better self that listens and responds.

The trick is to befriend depression and anxiety.

I like that idea. But then my mind goes off on a tangent, if Jesus was to fight Buddha in a square go, who would win?

Haig’s better self needs to write. I get that too. I need to write. To create. And hope there will be somebody to read what I’ve written. The better self, like the lower self, does not live in isolation. Our smallness is our strength. When we lose the path we need to seek others to haul us up. Andrea, Haig’s wife, is the hero here, but so is he. He calls us all to be heroes. As Bertolt Brecht says, ‘Unhappy is the land that breeds no heroes. No Andrea, Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’  Haig asks for enough room to flourish and make choices. We don’t need more stuff. Reading is a kind of superpower. But the krypton is social networking sites like Facebook. I guess we talk the talk. All the rest is bullshit. That’s a depressing thought. This short book is a delight. Taste it and see. Use your superpower, and read on.

Carl MacDougall (1989) Stone Over Water.

stone over water.jpg

This is an old book in that Carl MacDougall received a bursary from the Scottish Arts Council to write his debut novel. How quaint that sounds now. It’s like having a governess or a government that valued literature.  I ripped through the book quickly. The story pays homage to Jane Eyre. The hero and narrator of the novel is Angus McPhail. ‘Give me the child until and I will give you the man’ is the maxim of Aristotle, or Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits and the documentary series 7UP tested that idea. Here Angus is a foundling at Greenbank House, the next minute he’s told to pack his stuff, he’s to be adopted. He’s twelve, the couple adopting him wanted a child with blue eyes. Angus has blue eyes, his new mother and father are quite happy with him. His brother Cameron and sister Euphemia (Phammie) treat him as if he’s one of the family. Cameron takes Angus to school and introduces him to everyone as his long-lost brother. Angus felt wanted.

His new father works in a bank writes a diary and might be working on a novel of what it means to be Scottish. Angus works in a bank writes a diary and is working on a novel of what it means to be Angus McPhail. His mother takes wee white pills and can be forgetful. It’s the 1960s. Phammie goes to find herself, but gets a bit lost. Cameron embraces Marxist dialectic and the working class. He proves himself to be less bourgeoisie than others might think by robbing banks for the cause.

Part One, Part Two and Part Three, or the beginning, the middle and the end are prefaced by a different kind of Marx, Groucho. ‘The party in the first part will be known as the party in the first part.’

The party of the third part takes us up to Thatcherism and the rewriting of history and it seems vaguely familiar. Take, for example, the film Darkest Hour. And listen to what Angus is telling his bit on the side Miranda.

Fiction is so pessimistic, which obviously has the effect of making people like me feel powerless, which is what it’s supposed to do. We’ve been told we’re powerless and now we feel powerless. The bourgeoisie have taken over everything.

…They even won the war.

Churchill won the war. He had a little help from his generals and their officers, but the soldiers merely did what they were told, the men and women who did the fighting and died for fuck-all simply responded to good leadership. So how can you compete with that, how can you come to terms with, far less survive in, a system where everything is subject to reassessment and that revision is adopted and fed back as propaganda?

Amen to that. Angus McPhail is a prophet. I’ve been saying that for the last ten years. Here it is in print from 1980 before we had ever second programme on Channel 4 and 5 with the tag Benefit and the unwritten script – scum. And here we have the latest tale of Churchill saving Britain by writing a speech about Never, Never, Never. I guess like the recent hokum about the King learning not to stutter Britain would have lost the war if it wasn’t for wordpower. Dream on. I’m a McPhail. 1% own more than the bottom 50% in Scotland is not a headline that shocks, it’s something that passes largely unnoticed. That’s the power of propaganda.   Stone Over Water, aye.

 

Evelyn Waugh (1988 [1930]) Vile Bodies.

mosley.jpg

I bought this book for one pence on Amazon. I think it’s overpriced, but I don’t want my money back. The dedication in the book is to Bryan Moyne and Diana Mosley. I don’t know who Bryan is, but Diana, friend of Hitler, married Sir Oswald Mosley, Vile Bodies, indeed. I wanted to have a look at this book because Selina Todd mentions it, in her history, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class. Characters in Vile Body, think here of spitting images, Diana Mosley and her fascist friends treat the General Strike of 1926 as a lark in which the can dress up and act differently. Of course they could. A government decree held that strikers and working people, in general, could be and should be manhandled in any way those Middle and Upper Class strike-breakers saw fit. They would not be prosecuted, but commended in beating the brutes and showing them who was boss. Shades of the miner’s strike 1984- 85. Winston Churchill’s plan to use soldiers to shoot strikers would, however, regarded as a tad excessive by Margaret Thatcher’s loose standards.

I’ve got off-track here. In the preface to Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh writing in 1964, says:

This was a totally unplanned novel. I had the facility at the age of 25, to sit down at my table, set a few characters on the move, write 5000 words a day, and note with surprise what happened…Vile Bodies caught the public’s fancy.

In other words Vile Bodies was a best seller. Think of every cliché written about vanity publishing and multiply it by ten. I’m biased. Normally, I wouldn’t read a book with upper- class protagonists and we don’t need satire when we have the moron’s moron as President. Vile Bodies. I was robbed your honour. I could give this book to a charity shop, but probably better pulped, less than a penny’s worth but more than the book’s worth.

 

The mad, the bad and the sad. Your number’s up.

Suzanne O’Sullivan (2015) It’s All in Your Head. True Stories of Imaginary Illness.

ghost maps.jpg

I like stories of imaginary illnesses. Dr Faraday in Sarah Waters The Little Stranger errs on the side of caution and attributes a collective form of psychosomatic illness to the aristocratic Ayre’s family staying at rundown Hundreds Hall, and the subconscious as place and time combine, the equivalent of old cartographers whom declared this be the end of the world, here be ghosts. The coroner at Caroline’s death was quite happy to accept that she died while her mind was unbalanced. I thought it was her body that toppled over the balcony, but there you go, it was her mind. The two are inextricably linked.

Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White has private asylums, doppelgangers and rich hypochondriac uncles that can’t bear loud noise, or indeed most everyday noise, as key parts of his plot.

Suzanne O’Sullivan touches on The Devils of Louden and it’s clear that she doesn’t think there was anything devilish about them. O’Sullivan calls for a compassionate response to those suffering from illness, whether mental or physical, because one impinges on the other. Fling in Abigail Williams from The Crucible. It takes more than one to cry witch, to be heard and collective responsibility must be taken seriously. One of my favourite stories wasn’t directly about the sad, the mad or the bad, but the gullibility of the rich for new fads.

I’m biased in that way. Those that could afford a nurse and private asylum in Collins’s time would be treated far better than those in Bethlem Royal Hospital that coined the term Bedlam.  Just before the start of the First World War a young Winston Churchill was calling for the creation of purpose-built asylums where feeble-minded men and women could be segregated from the general population. Sterilisation of women would be compulsory to ensure they did not reproduce. These measures were introduced in some American states. Eugenics is a rallying call against the poor. I like to listen to rallying calls against the rich. If you want to look at how the poor were treated during the First World War for shell shock Pat Barker’s Regeneration novels shows the dichotomy of how anthropologist, ethnologist, neurologist and psychiatrist W.H.R. Rivers treated officers of the ruling class at Lockhart hospital, most notably Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, and how Rivers’s counterparts tortured working-class soldiers until they were reported fit for duty. Post-traumatic-stress disorder treated with electric shocks to make the blind see and the lame walk is nothing new. If you’ve got an imaginary friend you better get on the blower to him quick style.

Julian Barnes short story ‘Harmony’ tells the story of a young musical prodigy Maria, born 15th May 175-. The child’s health was normal, until she woke up blind at the age of three and half. It was held to be the perfect case of amaurosis, there was no fault detectable in the organs of the eyes, but she was blind. Her condition was attributed to some fright the she received during the night. Her musical education continued and the blind infant prodigy was much sought after in royal courts throughout Europe. M—sought to cure her with magnetism, with some success, but Maria’s parents were not blind to society’s measuring rod and blind prodigy was a mere prodigy without her condition.

O’Sullivan notes that whilst psychosomatic disorders may be thought of an illness of perception, there’s no escaping the damning statistic that seventy percent of such disorders are suffered by women. She draws not just on local knowledge but a wide body of research. A 2011 German study, for example, showed that twenty-two percent of those attending the equivalent of our GPs had a somatising disorder. Somatising disorder means that although the illness the patient comes to get treated for is real enough for the patient those treating the patient can find no organic reason why he or she is presenting those symptoms. The World Health Organisation 1997 estimated that twenty percent of those attending their doctor had at least six ‘medically unexplained symptoms’.  More recent pilot studies in London confirms the WHO’s findings. They are the imaginary friend in the room with doctor and patient. Hollywood is good at this kind of thing. Think The Three Faces of Eve, but the patient has only brought two faces into the consulting room and is presenting with a bit of a cough. Some of the cases presented by O’Sullivan are highly symbolic and could be said to be straight forward. The woman that goes blind and is unable to keep her eyes open after her husband is taken to jail for abusing a neighbour’s child. Women that take pseudoseizures (or dissociative seizures) at work. The language is useful and how the patient describes their seizure has been modelled and analyses to differentiate between psuedoseizures and epileptic seizures. One behavioural, the other which can be accurately measured by EEG. With no increased electrical activity in the brain O’Sullivan asks and answers the question are they real? Yes and No.

O’Sullivan widens the scope to those outside her practice whom she has come into direct contact with. The estimated 250 000 reported cases classified as Myalgic Encephalomylitis (ME) and/or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Two million CFS cases are documented in The United States.  The disease or syndrome is real enough for those suffering from it. Each new case is looking for a cure, another test, another diagnosis.

The neurologist Weir Mitchell rest cure was a response to Charcot’s definition of hysteria in women extreme fatigue, but geared towards rich men in Philadelphia. The crème de la crème who were thinking too much and suffering from neurasthenia. Patients were force fed fatty foods to build them up. Discouraged from standing. A bedpan was brought to them for their toilet needs. They could not read. Have conversations, or have any type of stimulation. Although this sounds much like my local pub, they were charged extraordinary amounts of money for their cure. If the cure didn’t work, apply more cure.

Our government’s response is  predictable, a wooly response, to place wellbeing at the centre of their strategy; delay of the publication of critical report,  A Five Year Forward View for Mental Health; promises of more money for NHS Mental Health services, a mooted figure of £1 billion to ‘plug gaps in service’; whilst as Daniel Boffey notes ‘incentivising’ the 250 000 with recognised psychiatric conditions to find work by cutting currently classified as disabled from £102.15 per week to 72.40 per week. Using the government’s template those with ME or CFS could be ‘incentivised’ to be cured by cutting disability payments to a more manageable figure of £0.00.

As O’Sullivan notes most ME/CFS sufferers have good reason to be defensive. Whether in or out of employment, they are regarded as the shirkers of the medical system, using up valuable resources that could be used better elsewhere. The government diagnosis of a personal defect poor people suffer from that can be instantly cured by them finding a job and the cynicism of medical staff that grow weary of test after test finding no organic reason for illness and an increasing readiness to find the failing in the patient is a potent mix. O’Sullivan calls for ‘an open mind’ but that door is already closed.

‘Neurasthenia, hysteria, melancholia, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, yuppie flu, dissociative seizures, psychogenic non-epileptic seizures.’

Hippocrates 200 AD suggested hysteria was too much or too little of something: black bile, yellow bile, blood or phlegm. If any of the four humours were in conjunction the trouble may be the master organ of the wandering womb and the sympathetic responses travelling in spirit form induced in the patient. I quite liked the nineteen-century idea of such conditions being down to engorgement of the nasal membrane, but then again I do have a big nose.

‘So now I’m a psycho, am I?’ asks more than one of O’Sullivan’s patients.

‘This is boring now, I think you should get better,’ Jo Marchant’s father says to his daughter in an extract of her memoir Cure.

As O’Sullivan notes, ‘In the twenty-first century psychosomatic illness is a socially unacceptable disorder’. The media plays its part in carrying the symptoms that are spread throughout the general population. But on the bright side we no longer burn people as witches.  Of course the condition, syndrome, illness or whatever label you want it put on it is a matter of perception and the votes are in. Any right-thinking type would know who can be cured will be cured, the others are psychos. In the same way the First World War the Krauts or Bosche needed more cold steel right up them to be pushed back patients with ME/CFS are a small minority of shirkers that need to find work is finding increasing traction. She is a voice of reason, but she is drowned out by those with louder voices, big sticks and the ability to push their agenda through. When we are told it is not a question of money, we can be sure it is.  O’Sullivan tells us ‘laughter can be therapeutic’. Ha. Ha. That sounds like a cheap option, but more tests will be needed.

Coalition Channel 4, 9pm.

meredith

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/coalition/on-demand/57947-001

Timing is everything in politics. Growth in the economy. A few weeks from another Tory triumph, or another patchy coalition? Scriptwriter James Graham looks backwards to what happened five-years ago, when the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberals. For me it’s a case of who do I hate the most.

In Ten Days that Shook the World, American socialist and journalist John Reed chronicled the rise of the Bolsheviks to power in Russia.  Here we have five days of farce and melodrama in which public school boys David Cameron (Mark Dexter) makes googly eyes at Nick Clegg (Bertie [Wooster] Carvel) and woos him with talk of a partnership of equals, with a similar background and views. He bathes in a steam of money, rips his shirt off for the viewers and says ‘Damn it Nick, look at my portfolio. We could be so happy together.’

Standing outside this duo is two people. The bearish Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve) waiting for a chance, waiting for a dance. It’s an arranged marriage. Gordon even has the audacity to return to number 10 Downing Street, even though his Labour Party polled less seats than the Tories. In a phone call Gordon pleads with Nick that the Tory’s polled less the 30% of the popular vote. 70% didn’t want them in power. They didn’t have a popular mandate, but really Nick, it’s up to you to do the right thing. He also has to remind the supercilious civil servant who runs the place that he is still –technically- Prime minister. Inside a briefing room his team find they have already been erased from history, their computer files deleted and their encrypted codes no longer work.

Looking over their shoulders is the patron saint of politicians Winston Churchill, who manages to be both a Liberal and Conservative politician that led a coalition government to Great Britain’s greatest victory, (prior to the 1966 World Cup win). Churchill featured in the last 1926 government of Ramsay McDonald between Labour and Liberal. David is shown on a stair vacillating (a politician’s equivalent of masturbation) about going all the way with young Nicky, below a giant portrait of Winston. And fresh-faced Nick is initially shown after the debates shown on live council telly, and cited publicly, as the most popular politician since Churchill. Adoring crowds gather to cheer his every pronouncement. (Boris Johnson, the future Tory leader, has of course written a biography of the great man).

Poor old Gordon, jilted and pushed around, has to watch on live TV David and Nicky dancing. Peter Mandelson (Mark Gatiss) is the most sympathetic of a cast of unsympathetic characters. He has to rein the old bear in and remind him that in real politics there’s still a chance. Prod him not to say too much in impassioned and earnest late-night phone calls.

Nicky squirms in the old bear’s presence. When Gordon in an act of daring and self-sacrifice steps aside and promises Nicky he can choose a new Labour beau from the catalogue, there is a moment when it might all happen. History might have been changed. Mark Gatiss might have been the new Churchill and the bubble economics of inflated house prices and helping rich people get richer at the expense of everyone else might not have been quite so dramatic. Nicky isn’t sure. He can’t make his mind up. Will her? Or won’t he?

Step in Paddy Ashdown with a Churchillian speech, most often seen coming out of the side of the mouth of Burgess Meredith in Rocky movies. Cue music.  If you want it now Nicky. You worked for it. You worked damned hard for it. You got to go out and get it. I will Paddy. I’ll do it for you. Freeze-frame: Nicky Deputy Prime Minister on the podium with a cheering crowd below him.

http://www.abctales.com/story/celticman/king-dole