Me and the Royal Wedding


Well, shucks, here we go again, there’s gonna be a Wedding! Bread and circuses are once again being served to the proletariat, as hard and heavy as the Press and TVF can shovel it down their throats, as welcome relief/calculated distraction from the state of this dismal country and the even more dismal state of its so-called Government. As I seem to remember David Byrne once saying, same as it ever was.

Now don’t get me wrong. Insofar as this involves a young man and a young woman who are in love and who wish to marry and spend their lives together, then good luck to them, I’ll wish them well. But as I know neither of the couples, in the same way that I do not know either of John Smith or Alison Jones who also announced their engagement today, I do not feel any need to know about it, and especially not any of the details.

But I’m going to be bombarded with them from now until next spring, aren’t I? No matter how reclusive I am, how hermit-like I have become, I am destined to know more about the bloody thing than any sane human being could want to know, short of going on strike and camping out in Loughrigg Cave for the duration. If it wasn’t so effing cold at the moment, I would be tempted.

The thing is, I have been here before, I have form for this. Like any person of my generation, we have walked the walk multiple times.

The first one was Anne and Mark in 1973. I really don’t remember the roots of my aversion to the Royal Family and the sycophancy that we’re supposed to display towards them, but it firmly was in place by that time. I was three days past my eighteenth birthday, I was at University, it was a Wednesday, and I remember that detail because we had no lectures, ever, on Wednesday afternoon, so I headed home, let myself in, shouted a hello to those in the lounge, glued to the affair, and bounded upstairs, not to come down until everything was long since over.

This got me in trouble from my mother, not because of my deliberate insult to the Royal Family, which was already firmly established and accepted as just one of the many ways in which her elder child was irredeemably weird. No, I got into trouble, and on this occasion rightly so, because she had earlier that day driven across to Hulme to collect my Nanna, her mother, to enable her to watch the Wedding in colour.

In my urge to have nothing to do with proceedings, I did not even pop my head round the door to say hello to Nanna, though in my marginal defence, I was not called when Mam left to take her home. This one I acknowledge, and am ashamed about. On the other hand, I have no regrets about boycotting the event.

The next one was the biggie, Chas and Di in 1981, the source of the New Sycophancy that is with us to today, having survived the wobble induced by Diana’s death. This time, avoiding the television broadcast brought no complaints from my mother, and I pushed off into Manchester, on the bus, which was still running despite the country having come to a standstill for the nuptials of the Heir to the Throne. I mean, this was the big one, patriotism-wise, the necessary first step towards ensuring the continuation of the Line (actually, it’s legally necessary for Heirs to be borne within wedlock).

Frankly, the only thing I genuinely do remember about the day was going with a mate to an evening festival, eating lots of sausage barms and feeling completely out of place among people who had loved the day and been seriously enthralled about everything. It felt very lonely.

Next one was Andrew and Fergie, which takes us to 1986. There was no shutting the country down for the day on this occasion, which was a Wednesday again. I had plans for this one. I was working for a big firm, in the centre of Manchester. Everybody knew me, and understood where I came from, especially when it came to my antic sense of humour, so I was looking forward for weeks in advance to a morning of stomping up and down the corridor and roaring out “Vive la Republique!” and “A la Lanterne!”.

I got shafted. About three weeks before the Glorious Day, I was approached by the Partners in Manchester. An Articled Clerk was qualifying in London and leaving, but his successor wasn’t able to start for one month. London desperately needed someone to fill in, to manage and run down his workload so that the replacement could start with a clean desk: I was asked to be that rescuer.

I wasn’t being asked because I was the best Assistant Solicitor we had but because I was the most flexible. Everybody else had houses (and mortgages) and would have found a shift to London incredibly difficult to manage. I would travel to London on Monday morning, return Friday evening (at the firm’s expense), and during the week I would live in a small flat above the office, which was usually provided for the benefit of partners who wanted to stay overnight to go the the Theatre, the Opera or a Show. All my food would be found for me (even if I nipped out for a KFC in the evening, provided I kept the receipt) and I was paid a London Allowance of £100.00 per week on top of my regular salary.

Plus one of my Manchester partners privately warned me that if there wasn’t enough work for me to do, I should have a private word with him and he’d get me pulled out.

The only time there was not really work to do was the last week, by which time I’d got the workload down to three files, and was exhausting myself badgering the same three opposite numbers every day, for updates. I never did get those files done, but my efforts were still very much appreciated, and I got on well with all those Londoners down there for the month I was intruded into their working lives.

The problem was, exactly in the middle of my London exile, on the Wednesday of the third week, was the Royal Wedding. Taking place in the very city where I was currently temporarily resident. I had some of the secretaries coming up to me, willing to slip upstairs to my little room (with its bed), not because of a sudden overwhelming lust for my Mancunian body (as if) but because they assumed I would have been supplied with a TV (the firm weren’t going to buy one, no matter how small and cheap for one month’s use) and they could catch glimpses of the proceedings.

Now there were one or two of them, and I don’t just mean the ones of my age, who I would have prepared to bear with some of the ceremony if we were sat on my bed, but that was no go.

And sadly, so was my plan to roar Republican slogans half the day. I didn’t know them well enough to know if they knew me well enough to take my intended sloganeering in the spirit in which it was intended, namely, that I meant every word of it, but, well, it was only Martin being Martin, ignore him.

Actually, that’s the last one I can remember having any significance. Anne and her second, the one we never hear anything of, Chas and Camilla, these were all quiet affairs as befits divorcees trying again. Eddy and thingummybob was also quiet I think (I can’t bear the idea of looking it up to see if there was massive public fuss and I’ve just forgotten about it completely).

Of course, William and Kate-with-the-bum-everyone-slathered-over-except-me was another big deal, but that didn’t take place until 2011, and as I no longer had a television by that time, ignoring it wasn’t anything like as big a deal. And the same will go for Harry the ginger and Meaghan. Indeed, by this point, I’ve forgotten just how many Royal Weddings I’ve ignored down the last forty-odd years. It’s no longer a protest, but a force of habit.

Still, at least I get the chance to flex old muscles again. It’s an ill wind that blows no Republican any good.

 

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The Presidential League Table (and Britain’s equivalent)


He isn’t even mentioned…

I’ve been an enthusiastic student of American political history since the early Eighties, the catalyst for this interest being Garry Trudeau’s consistently funny satirical newspaper strip, Doonesbury (currently in long-term decline into significance due to Trudeau’s decision in February 2014 to take it into Sunday only format). Well before the Guardian picked up the daily strip in 1981, I had been picking up collections at Comics Marts, including as many of the older books as I could lay my hands on.

Being an American politico-satirical strip, many of its references were meaningless to me. One such was the idea of a ‘Joe Welch moment’. That was referenced in Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men (which I grabbed after borrowing the film on video) and The Final Days.

Between the two, I started to realise how little I knew about such history, even as I had been so ignorant about Watergate, an event I had lived through. So I started visiting the American History section of the Library. My first choice was an overlong, over-detailed, dry as dust book on the Red Menace era of the Fifties (I knew that this ‘Joe Welch’ moment was something to do with destroying Joe McCarthy) but the next one, though just as long, was considerably more interesting: David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, about the origins of the Vietnam War.

No matter what I read, I couldn’t find this bloody ‘Joe Welch moment’. What the hell was it, what did he say, what was the context? Well, my first link came from R.E.M., including the crucial lines from it over the middle eight of ‘Exhuming McCarthy’, from Green. But my final discovery was an accident: there was an ITV series in 1988 or ’89 about the history of television. I walked downstairs to speak to my mother one night when it was on, and discovered myself watching the whole thing by sheer accident.

I no longer pursue such history quite so avidly and haven’t for years, having absorbed a basic knowledge that lets me orient myself reasonably comfortably to anything that crops up. I began when Reagan was President, and it’s amazing to think that, in the decades that have followed, we have only had a further five Presidents since.

One thing I did take away from my years of amateur study was that there is a Presidential League Table. This is a fictional table, endlessly debated by historians, constantly arguing about its order, constantly open to change. It’s underlying notion is simple: it is a ranking of the (presently) 44 men who have been President of the USA in order of, for want of a better word, their greatness. (45 Presidencies, 44 men: Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms and counts twice).

Naturally, there’s no agreement upon order, given that Political partizanship plays a tremendous role in each person’s rankings, but there is a certain degree of consensus on the likes of Abraham Lincoln, who usually comes out on top, with Washington, Jefferson and the two Roosevelts somewhere close behind. And there is near-universal agreement that the bottom of the list belongs to the Twenty-Ninth President, William Gamaliel Harding, in perpetuity.

Despite the attempt by Glenn David Gold in his tremendously popular 2001 novel Carter Beats the Devil to portray Harding as the innocent victim of plots and smears, history is in one accord as painting him as a basically corrupt Ohio Machine Politician who saw nothing wrong with letting his cronies rip America off, left, right and centre, cf, the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal, which was on the point of breaking (and which might possibly have swung the 1924 Presiodential Election to the Democrats) when Harding died of pneumonia in San Francisco in 1923, to be succeeded by his personally incorruptible Vice President, Calvin Coolidge.

The only time Harding changes place in the Presidential League Table is when a new President is elected, and he automatically drops one rank, numerically.

So it’s been, ever since I discovered the existence of this highly interesting thought experiment.

Since the year 2000, more or less, I have experienced many disappointments. One of the most minor of this is the knowledge that, barring the sudden discovery of personal immortality, I would never live to discover if history would fulfill my prediction that, one day, Harding will be lifted into second bottom by George W. Bush.

Which is why I find it deeply ironic that even before he took his perjured Oath of Allegiance, Donald Trump rendered all those long years of speculation and prediction completely meaningless, by beating ‘Dubya’ to the bottom. Looks like Harding may drift up as far as third bottom, but who gives a toss about that?

There is no such equivalent concept among British Prime Ministers, or if there is it’s an entirely academic exercise that never gets into the public press, where the howls about the complete discrepancy of opinions over Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair would render the whole thing completely unmanageable. But in this decade, my regrets about not being around to see History pin Bush 43 to the donkey’s arse did develop an amusing little parallel in the concern that I wouldn’t be around to see History hand out a similar designation to David Cameron as bottom of the Prime Ministerial League Table.

Only to see Theresa May instantly crush his claim so thoroughly that as long as there are Prime Ministers there is no chance whatsoever of anyone digging their way beneath her.

At least, I hope so…

Congratulations President Trump


Now that’s attracted your attention, hasn’t it? Normally, those words have no meaning in English unless spoken in deeply sarcastic tones (alright, this once I will admit to using sarcasm where I normally only speak with deep and bitter irony, but, let’s face it, Trump’s too shallow for anything more than sarcasm). However, the Combover Crybaby (cf. Tim Fenton) has announced that he will not block the release of over 3,000 never before publicly seen and over 30,000 previously redacted National Archive documents pertaining to the Kennedy Assassination, long my favourite conspiracy theory.

Credit where credit’s due, though no doubt the dumbfuck will do something to fuck it up literally within seconds.

Hey, maybe the real assassin was Trump’s dad, from the grassy knoll? Wouldn’t that just be brilliant?

Another Perspective: Princess Diana, twenty years ago


If I have to remember her…

I am not, and never have been a Royalist. The last Royal Event I remember actually watching was the TV highlights of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, in 1969, when I was only 13. By the time of the next one, Anne’s wedding in 1973, I was at University and ignored the whole thing completely.

When it came to Chas and Di, I took the day off like the rest of the country, but I didn’t watch the wedding, I went into Manchester, which wasn’t much cop as everywhere was shut for, yes of course, the Wedding. She was pretty fanciable, especially that shot where they got her legs silhouetted in that skirt, and in the evening, I joined a mate at one of the many parties going on: sausage barms galore.

But I was already put off by the New Sycophancy, as I termed it. The Royal Engagement gave a massive boost to the Monarchy, which had me looking at it askance. He and especially she was everywhere, and though millions worshipped her every appearance, I was one of those who didn’t think she was that attractive that she should be everywhere I turned. I had my own list of ladies who I’d much rather have seen floating around my vision that frequently.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s twenty years now, this month, and in today’s Guardian there’s a big, frequently glutinous piece by Zoe Williams that I can’t quite class as Crap Journalism because there is a degree of truth to it, but it’s going on and on about how she irrevocably changed the world, or at least this country, and how we all loved her, which has undergone a pretty near 95% level of challenge BTL.

And I remember that week, because I was there, I lived through it, feeling alienated from practically the entire country, and I think the opposing viewpoint to all the gush needs representing.

By August 1997, pretty much everybody had done with Diana, except for the Press, who would print anything they could attach a photo to. She’d taken up with Mohammed Fayad’s son, she was racketing around Europe, the Princes were back in England. She needed something to revive her brand. Death’s very effective for artists and musicians.

On Sunday, I came downstairs mid-morning, having indulged myself with a long lie-in. I’d left the firm I loathed by this point, was working for myself as part of a small, two-partner firm, but I don’t think I’d opened my office as yet, so I had no plans to go in to catch up on work. Sainsburys for shopping was about the limit of my intentions.

After making myself a coffee, still in my dressing gown, I sat down in the lounge and out the TV on, just to see what was on. I can’t remember whether I switched on ITV or BBC, but there was a quiet atmosphere, and an empty podium: somebody was expected to say something. It was Sunday: I’d probably caught the tail end of the religious programmes. I changed the channel, to BBC or ITV, took another swig of coffee, and looked up in puzzlement, because the picture was the same. I flicked backwards and forwards but both mainstream channels were broadcasting exactly the same thing. Some shit had obviously gone down.

By chance – I won’t call it luck – I had switched on only a couple of minutes before Blair read his People’s Princess speech. I watched it all. That’s when I found out. My only reaction was curiosity. Elsewhere, my future wife was watching the same footage: her first thought was that the Royal Family had got her.

All I thought was, I was sorry for her, dying so young, and as someone who had lost their own father at a very young age, I empathised with her sons, losing their mother so young. Poor buggers. I couldn’t wish that on anyone.

But as for her, well, shame but, and it’s hard to avoid using the words ‘so what?’ She meant nothing to me, either way, and I wasn’t that interested, outside of prurience, in the detals then available. I watched to the end of Blair’s speech, emotional and awkward, but no more than half an hour after that. Every channel was still taken over with the same thing by that point, and I drifted off to get dressed and do something more interesting.

I stayed away from the TV for most of the day: I could see quite clearly how it was shaping up. But I wasn’t prepared for the week that followed.

It’s true to say that that week changed the country, and I’m not in the least convinced it was for the better. There was a tone of what I could only describe as hysteria, that I kept well away from. When it came to the media, TV, radio, the press, it was simple. I didn’t watch news programmes, I only read the Guardian, which didn’t go overboard to the same degree that the headlines in the tabloids indicated, but still featured the story every single bloody day. I watched from the outside, as a Republican to whom anything relating to the Royal Family was alien and alienating.

I don’t even remember having any extreme feelings about the country’s seeming reaction. I couldn’t share it and I couldn’t understand it, but people were genuinely grieving, and I didn’t go anywhere near that. Their feelings, wherever they came from, were genuine and I didn’t feel it was my place to intrude on them. Grief is personal.

The first point at which I began to feel that things were going utterly too far was on the Thursday before the funeral. There’d been talk about Elton John possibly re-writing ‘Candle in the Wind’ (which, once upon a time, had been my favourite of his songs), and no it was confirmed and the lyrics were on the front page of the Guardian. I didn’t get more than halfway down the second verse before recoiling in disgust at the glutinous sycophancy of it. I read no more, and swore to myself that I would never listen to the song.

I think perhaps the only person I spoke to that week who shared any of the public grief was my younger sister, who has always been for more conventional than I in her tastes and opinions. There was certainly no sympathy at Droylsden FC, where I was then involved. We were more concerned with the fact that our weekend fixtures had been postponed en masse, because of the funeral.

That was the thing about that day: it didn’t matter what proportion of the country genuinely mourned Princess Diana, whether honestly or hysterically, all the rest of us were roped in. Everything we could have done instead was taken away from us, as if the evidence of our enjoying our ordinary lives was an insult to the rest of the population.

I don’t suppose anyone knows how many there were of each opinion, whether the majority prevailed, or whether they were oppressed into silence. I’d rather have gone to a match on Saturday and so would everyone else about the club, and I don’t for one moment believe we were unique.

The assumption was made, and we were smothered by it. Years later, the presence of a million people on the streets for the funeral procession of the Queen Mother was held up as evidence that Republicanism would never take hold in this country, but nobody seemed to take account of the plain statistic that for every one person out there mourning, there were sixty who weren’t. What the Press, what the mournful wanted to see, they saw and they validated themselves. No-one will ever know how many, like me, were cowed, or fearful, or just plain keeping out of the way in bafflement.

So Saturday came. I had no interest in the funeral, and I had already decided that thee best thing to do was to stay in most of the day. Though I didn’t usually bother, I closed the curtains, isolating myself from the outside world. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I couldn’t even have begun to pretend to share in the majority’s reactions, I would have said something, more than once, or asked that question that dared not be asked that day, which was, “Why?”, and so I acted with decency according to my lights and kept myself away from people whose emotions were engaged.

It was an odd experience. I was no stranger to occasional days spent holed up hermit-like in my house, but these were always lazy Sundays. Saturday were for activity: the match, an long drives every other weekend, or trips into Manchester, to Forbidden Planet, the HMV Shop, Waterstones. With the curtains closed, in August, and the sunshine cool through them, it was a most curious sensation. I was out of time, out of the timestream, forced out.

The following morning, when the Observer was delivered, I did read about the funeral. I hadn’t intended to, but my eye was caught by the report of the Earl of Spencer’s speech. Reading it, and reading the discomfort it had caused, I was almost tempted to wish I’d watched the proceedings just to see this. It was being billed as a nation-changing moment, that by itself would change the way in which we saw the Royal Family, but that of course was bollocks. It made not a blind bit of difference.

Once Monday came round again, thing went back to normal, except for all the crap in the papers, and in the Guardian about how the unloosing of the stiff upper lip had changed Britain and how we’d be so much better for it. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Dave (Cerebus) Sim, and his infamous argument about the battle between Reason and Emotion, which has its points if it weren’t for his insistence on defining it in strict gender terms. As the overwhelming majority of articles welcoming developments as making the country a better place to be were and still are written by women, the whole Princess Di bit has to be admitted as evidence in favour of his case, much as I’d rather not.

Twenty years has elapsed, and I’ve sneered many a time at the continuing obsession certain sectors of the press still has with the woman they were hounding and execrating and exploiting almost up to the point where the car entered that tunnel mouth. A conspiracy industry has grown up on the back of that drive almost equal to those surrounding JFK and Jack the Ripper, but though I love a good conspiracy theory without ever actually believing in them, I have never ever been the least bit interested in reading about this one.

As for Elton John, well. Inevitably, the revised version of the song came out as a single. It was released in midweek, a Thursday, when the charts still first appeared on Radio One on Sunday night. I was out that Saturday morning, at the famous Sifters, beloved of the recently famous Gallagher Brothers. Sifters was a cheerful pile-’em-high-and-sell-’em-cheap second hand record shop, with a sideline in the top 40 singles. During the hour I was there, no two minutes passed without someone coming to the counter or calling on the phone to ask for the Elton John ‘Candle in the Wind’ single. It came as no surprise to see it at Number One on Sunday night, nor that it is still the best selling single in this country.

I’ve never heard it. That may surprise you, but even after twenty years, I have escaped listening to it. I evaded it on the radio, I avoided it in public, except once, in Old Trafford, waiting for kick-off, when it was blared out over the stadium PA, and I found that even sticking my fingers in my eras until they nearly met in the middle could not totally block the sound out and I had to hum, loudly, to myself: la-la-la, can’t hear you.

And it’s destroyed my love for the original, too. The association is too direct.

So there it is: my experience of the country-changing experience. I’m not sure what the point was of writing this unless it’s to evidence that the death of Princess Diana twenty years ago did change this country, but not as those who control the press and feed off the hysteria claim.

What it did was to turn us into two countries, although only one of these is allowed a voice, that treats its opinions as universal when there is no such thing. Perhaps we can remember that when journalists tell us what we ‘all’ think.

What if they held a General election and nobody voted?


At 11.15 am today, our not at all unelected Prime Minister (thank you, Tim Fenton announced that we were going to have a General Election on June 8.

This proves several things, including that the Fixed Term Act is every bit as worthless as we always said it was, and that all that stuff about not cutting and running, about dealing with the job at hand, about not looking to put party above the country was exactly what we always said it was: bullshit. Complete and steaming bullshit.

I came into work. I was here two hours and no-one, in a room in which about fifty people were working, mentioned it. Several of them had been here since before the announcement was announced and didn’t know. No-one was excited.

Given that the result is probably going to be a disaster, in line with the last three elections I’ve followed, I cannot summon much interest in this one. I live in a seriously Labour constituency and will vote Labour on the day, but I have no hopes, and I think the turnout is going to set new levels. I think this is going to be the General Election that no-one wants.

I can certainly do without it.

Crap Journalism – Atheists are just as much believers as the rest of us


This is another of those pieces of toss that ensure that when the Guardian pleads for money, I tell it to fuck off and die.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2017/jan/25/atheists-youre-not-as-rational-as-you-think-video

Try listening to this sometime. It’s another heap of shite, hurling around accusations that atheists are smug, and atheists are full of superstitions, and atheists think they’re better than us and I’m going to tear them down because I can’t cope with the idea that people go through their day without worshipping God.

It’s the stereotypical bullshit and speaking as an atheist, I can only say that, to take one accusation, I certainly do not believe that ‘what goes around comes around’. I dearly wish it actually did, but the world of rationality provides no evidence that those who behave like utter, self-involved, malicious, greedy shits get their comeuppance. Rather, the opposite is true.

I try not to be offensive to the religious but in the case of this goomer, I can only suggest that he runs back to his sky-pixie and prays to have the shit cleared out of his head. Because on the evidence of this, he’s full of it.

Crap Journalism 6


https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/07/theresa-may-brexit-david-cameron-tony-blair-woman

Read the headline. Go on, read it. “No one queried David Cameron’s credentials to be prime minister”. Hell’s fucking bells, are you serious?

PS, when someone is an ignorant, ranting incompetent, don’t tell me not to criticise her because she happens to be an ignorant, ranting incompetent woman.