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.

 

Advertisements

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