Twenty Years

For my parents’ generation, it was always said that nobody forgot where they were when they heard about President Kennedy’s assassination. Hell, even I remember that day, and I was only just turned eight.
Growing up, I thought that for me and my generation, the equivalent would be the falling of the Berlin Wall. What an immense day, what an unbelievable moment, what a shock. But a good one.
Well, we were destined for an embarrassment of riches. We were the generation that not only got the Berlin Wall and its attendant satellite moments, like the look on Nicolae Ceausescu’s face when the crowd booed him, we got 9/11 as well.
Twenty years ago today, it was a sunny afternoon. I was a year into my job as Principal Conveyancer at Bolton Council, nearly a year into my marriage. It was the early afternoon, maybe about 2.30pm, and I was getting into my post-lunch stride (because of my history of working in private practice, I instinctively took my lunch from 1.00 – 2.00pm whereas those who’d been in Local Government all their lives adhered to 12.00 – 1.00pm).
At the Council, we had individual telephone numbers so calls came through to me direct. The call came at about 2.30pm, and it was my wife. I was cheered to hear from her, until she told me why she was ringing. News had come through from America, nebulous, unconfirmed, full of rumour, that there had been an attack on New York, a plane had supposedly been flown into a building, the whole city was covered in a cloud of smoke and it had been closed off to the outside world, nobody in, nobody out.
We neither of us knew what this might entail, but it was worrying. Whatever it was was something major. She wanted me to know, and underneath there was the subconscious wish of both of us to be together, if something worse was coming.
She rang off. At that time, the Legal Department consisted of desks arranged in little carousels, creating little right angles in which we sat, four to a set. The one where I sat was at what I thought of as the top of the room, next to the door giving access from that side of the Town Hall, the side I came in. It was the only one with two people, the other being my immediate boss, the Chief Lawyer (Conveyancing). As soon as I was off the phone, I told him what I had learned.
He was as concerned as I, but also concerned not to start a panic. He asked me not to say anything to anyone about it whilst he slipped out to try to find any further information. The Internet might have existed but we had no access to it from Bolton Council, nothing but internal email.
There were a number of television shops not far from the Town Hall, with screens on all the shopping day, and he headed for these to see what he could pick up. It was still so early that it was all nebulous. Beyond the fact something had happened, and something pretty damned serious, he could throw no light on the situation. I agreed to keep my lip buttoned. It was weird being one of only a very few people aware that the shit had hit some sort of fan and the repercussions could be unimaginably widespread.
At 5.15pm, I left for the day. It was a ten-minute walk to the Station which got me onto the Station with a few minutes to spare for a Manchester-bound train that, if it arrived on time, left me just enough time to run from Platform 13 to Platform 1 for my connecting train home. If it were delayed, there was a twenty-five-minute wait for the next train. I was curious about what had been going on since my wife’s call. The first TV Shop I passed stopped me dead in my tracks.
They were showing the collapse of one of the Towers, from close range, coming down in that impossible way into itself that, until that moment I had never known was possible. I stood and stared at it, transfixed. Then I raced off, to catch the first train, catch the connection, get home, hug and kiss my wife and find out just what the fuck had happened.
We know what had happened. There were the clips of films they don’t show but they don’t need to because the images are branded on the brains of those of us who saw them. The planes flying into buildings. The Towers’ collapse. The Diving Man. Dubya’s face. Twenty years ago and as fixed and clear as if they were being seen for the first time today.
One thing that not everyone will have felt, but which I was conscious of, was a feeling of subliminal disappointment. That Superman didn’t intervene, that Spider-Man didn’t use his webbing. I suspect that most of us who were comics fans twenty years ago may have thought something similar, automatically. That indicated a certain stunned approach to the reality of what we’d seen, that it couldn’t really have happened, it wasn’t really possible outside of a superhero universe where the day could and would be saved at the last minute. It doesn’t happen here.
They told us the world would never be the same, that reality would change, irreversibly, in every respect. The world’s never the same every single day, but this was one of the mega-moments. But the never-the-same was inapplicable below a certain level. Things from before then are still the same now, or changed in ways that owe nothing to 9/11.
Then and now. There is still a direct thread between the two. We will never forget where we were, or who we were, when we found out.

The Children of Aberfan

Today was the 54th Anniversary of the day the children died at Aberfan. I was ten years old, too young to follow the news, too young to take an interest in what was around me. Certain things stick in the mind though, because I heard so much about them. One such was Aberfan.

Today, if money were not so venerated as to be held greater than human lives, a hundred and more men and women would be entering their Sixties. They would have lives and loves and successes and failures, good times, bad times. men and women would have been born who are in this world only ghosts, possibilities denied. What would any of those never born have done? What achievements were withheld from us because money meant more than human lives?

Who amongst us have lived lesser lives, seen duller, more awful times because the man or woman they would have met, fallen in love with and married wasn’t there at that crucial moment to meet them for the first time?

We all of us only ever lead contingent lives, dependent upon the world and the people around us, who change our lives and fates in every moment, by decisions that create ripples. I have often joked that if a long-demolished newsagents in Openshaw, in 1966, had placed a different DC Comic in their window one Friday afternoon in March, I would have never met the woman I married. But it’s true, as it is for everybody.

The children of Aberfan never had that chance. They, like the kid in Neil Young’s ‘Rocking in the Free World’, never got to go to school, never got to fall in love, never got to be cool. We remember things like armistice Day and VE Day every year, and rightly so. But we should remember with equal vigour the stains on our reputation and dedicate ourselves with all our vigour to ensuring that we will not allow such things to happen again.

That is how we pay our proper respect to the children of Aberfan.

He may be us

No-one saw 2020 coming, not in what it was. As Cate Blanchett said, at the start of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, ‘the world is changing’. It has changed. And it won’t change back, no matter how desperate we all have been about getting back what we had until March this year. Because that’s the thing about the world changing: it always does and it never changes back.

And currently the world is heading into the Pit. I don’t mean that in any religious sense. There is no God or god waiting for the moment to resolve it all with a miracle. As Terry Pratchett put it in Mort, ‘there is no justice. There’s just us.’

American heading into Dictatorship of the stupid. Britain scurrying along in its wake. Breaking a treaty and expecting the world to trust us on the basis we keep our word. Belarus falling backwards towards chaos and Russian takeover. The climate isn’t changing after all, he said, coughing from the smoke of the West Coast fires. The isolation we experience. Work friends I haven’t seen in six months because they work from home and I work in the Centre.

But these aren’t the only aspects of 2020, though the good stuff is very limited. Doves have come back, sounding as if it’s still 2008 when I sat up until 4.00am and I near had tears in my eyes, was in almost holy awe, that in my lifetime I had lived to see the day America elected a black President. What an amazing feeling. How unbelievable then. how much more unbelievable now.

And 2020 is the year I finally got into Pogo, Walt Kelly’s blessed, much-loved and much-praised cartoon strip. I’ve tried and failed before. I’ve known of it for decades but couldn’t carry myself over that line. Now I have. Five Collected Volumes. A sixth awaits my next payday, to be put on my birthday pile. I have to live long enough for the other six that will complete the long story to be published. nothing like an incentive.

It’s Walt Kelly that’s prompted this mournful little essay this morning, as I wait for my rigidly enforced appointment for a flu injection . Because funny, acute, perceptive and inventive as Kelly was, he was also wise. And he said something that people quote, unaware that its provenance is a cartoonist. He said it in one line, but this, below, is an expanded version of it, and I quote it here. Kelly was talking about the ecology, but his words are no less applicable to everything that surrounds us today, and why there is only us to save us. If we want to.

“There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.”

More Not-Crap

Guardian commentator ItsMidnight in response to the article in the previous post

“Three Rags for the Tory Lords under the Sky
Seven Rites for the City Lords in their halls of Stone
Nine Rules for Mortal Men doomed to die
None for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Westminster where the Shadows lie
Many Rules to rule them all, Some to fine them
Many lies to trick them all and in their darkness bind them”

Reblog: Tom Scott

If (or How to Be a Tory Politician)

If you can tell a lie when all about you
Demand the truth and nothing less from you;
If you can break the trust that was placed in you,
And do this with no shred of conscience too;
If you can make the desperate who are waiting
For vital kit that might just save their lives,
Wait long weeks more through your prevaricating,
And shift the fault away from your own lies;

If you can make your dream of power your master
And serve it with no other earthly aim;
If you can mete out chaos and disaster
And always make a scapegoat take the blame;
If you can bear to hear the lies you’ve spoken
Puffed by the press to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the hopes and dreams of others, broken,
And use all men and women as mere tools;

If you can simulate concern for others
When all the while you could not give a toss;
And gamble with the lives of fathers, mothers
And never turn a hair about their loss;
If you can kill the heart and soul within you
And carry on long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to you: ‘Hold on!’

If you can get the Murdoch press to love you,
So that its hacks lend you the common touch,
Then neither foes nor two-faced friends can hurt you,
And you’ll be free to get away with much;
If you can fill each TV airtime minute
With bullshit and not care it’s overdone,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be PM, my son!

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling

Re-Blog: Nathan Anderson, from Facebook

I agree with every word, but he says it better than I could.

Before you start blaming individuals who in your own opinion are not obeying the rules have a read of this…

As this crisis deepens and the death toll mounts, a narrative is going to emerge that will be very seductive to many of us. It will all be the fault of “the people.”
The people who failed to practice social distancing. The people who hoarded. The people who didn’t listen to the government. The people who didn’t listen to the science. The people. Those selfish people. Look at them in their parks. The government will start trotting this out. Right wing media will push it hard. Police forces have already begun assigning blame to “the people”.
Many of us will feel the tug of this seductive reasoning. Our brains will be tempted to lash out at “the people.”
When we do, we must remember some things: –
The government had 3 months to prepare. This was a train coming down the tracks. At first we were told the plan was herd immunity. Then it wasn’t.
As the first few people started to die, Boris Johnson boasting of shaking the hands of hospitalised coronavirus patients. This was a week before the lockdown.
Why weren’t we in lockdown like other European countries, some asked. Trust us, they said.
Then we got the lockdown order. What did they say? The initial government advice was only “essential workers could travel to work”. A day later this was changed to “essential travel for work.” See the difference?
They told us to practice social distancing as MPs crowded around each other in the House of Commons.
They said only the old and immuno-comprised were at risk. Then healthy twenty-somethings started dying.
They said the NHS could cope, then they started building field hospitals in stadiums.
They said the NHS had the protective equipment it needed, then we logged on to social media.
They said we were in it together, then they got tested before the front-line workers.
They said there was no such thing as society and it was survival of the fittest, then said we needed to show solidarity.
They clapped when they voted against a pay-rise for NHS nurses in 2017, then they clapped for the NHS.
They spent a decade telling us cuts were needed to save the economy, then they said the only way to save the economy was to spend trillions.
They spent a decade insisting £94 was enough to live on, then admitted it wasn’t. – They got us to vote for Brexit by rubbishing “experts,” then told us to trust experts.
They told us retail workers were low skilled, then said they were key workers.
They said homelessness was sad but inevitable, then they order it ended overnight.
So yes, “the people” ended up a little fucking confused. Because our so-called leaders have utterly failed to lead. They don’t know what they stand for; they couldn’t believe the world could change so quickly; they resisted “alarmist” when the only proper response was to be alarmed; they had no idea how to use the power of the state, having spent a decade dismantling it; they were arrogant and complacent, wallowing in privilege.
The fundamental duty of government is to keep us safe. That’s what we pay them to do. They have failed.
As the death toll mounts, remember that our leaders are to blame, not “the people,” and we must resist the temptation to blame each other.

Author Nathan Williams

Please feel free to copy and share”

The Three Aspects of Roman Polanski

Polish-born Film Director Roman Polanski, aged 86, is once again the subject of controversy in respect of his nomination for, and subsequent award of a prestigious Cesar Award for his latest film, J’accuse (An Officer and a Spy). Polanski was given Best Director at the French equivalent of the Oscars for a film about the Dreyfuss affair, in which he has in interviews compared himself to the film’s leading character, stating an affinity with a man falsely accused of crime and punished for it for long years.

I’m not here to comment on the validity of the award. It may be perfectly right and only fair to give Polanski the Director due recognition. But Polanski the Director is inseperable from Polanski the Man. And Polanski the Man comes with an indelible history.

To state the facts: in 1977 Polanski formed a friendship with a 13 year old girl, in which he was encouraged by her mother. Polanski then took the girl to his home, without a chaperone, and gave her both drinks and drugs. He then had sexual intercourse with the girl, vaginally, orally and anally. The girl protested throughout, saying No several times and asking him to stop. Less clinically, Polanski raped a girl he knew to be substantially under the age of consent, in all orifices.

Polanski was charged with five serious charges, including rape, sodomy and furnishing a minor with drugs, to which he pleaded not guilty. Eventually, he agreed a plea-bargain in which the charges would be dropped, and he would plead to unlawful sexual intercourse in exchange for probation.

On the eve of the hearing, Polanski was informed that the Judge was considering refusing to accept the plea-bargain, as he was legally entitled to do, on the grounds that the punishment was not in proportion to the offences. Fearing imprisonment and subsequent deportation, Polanski fled the country. Subsequently, he has very rarely entered a country from which he could be extradited to America.

This took place ver forty years ago, during which Polanski has continued his chosen profession with few, if any, restrictions on his ability to make films, and has continued to live a life unhindered by any monetary problems. He has had several prominent figures from the artistic community defending him, suggesting he should not be pursued in this manner, that his actions should be forgotten. One such defender was the late Clive James, and I think very carefully about disagreeing with him.

So far, the arguments for Polanski being relieved of the outstanding charges against him appear to amount to, on the one hand, his status as a great artist and, on the other the truly terrible tragedies he has already experienced, the loss of one family to the Concentration Camps and the loss of another, his heavily pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, to mass murder by the Charles Manson Family. To these are to be added longevity: what is the point after all these years?

The first of these has always seemed to me to be an extension of George Orwell’s arguments about Salvador Dali, the famous ‘Benefit of Clergy’. Orwell stated that it should be perfectly possible for a thinking mind to accept that one person can be both a great artist and a terrible human being. Polanski can be both: genius is not a guarantee of humanity. The argument seems to be a claim that because of Polanski’s talents he should be granted some form of pass for his actions as a person. The Director is not merely separated from the Man but placed on a pedestal that causes his actions to receive absolution.

As for Polanski’s history, it is truly horrible. Were I still a Solicitor engaged in defending criminals, I would certainly plead it in mitigation, but that would be in relation to my client’s level of punishment, not in relation to his culpability. To claim Polanski should not be charged with crimes is an insult to all those survivors of Auschwitz et al, of murdered relations, who did not themselves go on to inflict damage and pain on others, ‘because of their experiences’.

So far as I am aware Polanski has never expressed any public remorse for his actions. Indeed, in at least one interview he has stated that all men want to fuck underage girls. Speaking as a man who hasn’t wanted to fuck an underage girl since he was an underage boy, I take that as a personal insult. I believe it is a characteristic of paedophiles that they are convinced everyone thinks like them and they are being persecuted by being punished.

So let us return to Polanski’s Cesar Award. There is an argument to say that artistic merit should be regarded in complete isolation, divorced entirely from any other concerns. That is to separate Polanski the Artist from Polanki the Man. Can we do that? Should we do that? I believe, as Orwell put it, that it’s possible to recognise that those such as Polanski can be great artists and terrible human beings at the same time. Others refute this, saying that a person’s artistic ability, his themes, their execution, stem from their person, and thus art cannot be divorced from their life.

In that there are things of great artistic achievement that I like/enjoy/love that have come from what you might call unclean persons, I do lean to the former. But the position becomes more complicated when we ask if we should honour such creations. Should praise them, extol them, reward them. There, I move into the other camp.

In Polanski’s case, things are complicted by the introduction of another, unavoidable aspect: Polanski the Symbol.

Polanski the Director may be entitled to recognition in exclusion of Polanski the Man, the criminal. But Polanski is also the Symbol. He is the unrepentant criminal, who refuses to acknowledge the existence of his crimes. He is the fugitive from Justice, who ran away from the Court established to try his actions, and who has fled justice ever since. And Polanski the Symbol is the Man who Got Away With It. The supporters who say he should no longer be pursued are arguing that all you have to do is wait long enough and, no matter what you’ve done, the slate should be wiped clean. Allow me a moment’s cynicism by suggesting that they wouldn’t be so forgiving to the man who robbed their house and stole all their most cherished property.

Besides, it’s a very dangerous precedent to set, especuially when you can’t agree how long enough is long enough.

It may be possible to separate Polanski the Director from Polanski the Man, but you can’t do that from Polanski the Symbol. Reward the Director and you reward, and justify, the man who told Justice to fuck off, the man who’s played I’m alright Jack half his life, the man who’s plugging the very film you have honoured by saying he knows what it feels like to be accused and imprisoned falsely.

As it stands, Polanski will never answer for his crimes. His words will justify those who think that it’s ok to have sex with a thirteen year old who’s saying no, who’s still asking you to stop even though you’ve got her pissed and you’ve given her drugs and you’re giving it her up the bum, no, there’s no need to listen to her, what right has she got to stop you? This may be a fact of life in this corrupted world that we have to live with, but don’t go around applauding him for his achievements. The award and the nomination was an horrific mistake.