8082161-15089604043887768-1

There is much current publicity about mental health and the difficulties experienced both by those struggling with various deeply troubling conditions and those practitioners attempting with difficulty to establish parity of status for their problems alongside issues of physical health. Chronic anxiety and depression, so devastatingly real for those afflicted, are still seen as having little substance or gravity by so many unaffected by such extremity. Whilst in the first instance sympathy may be expressed and with it comfort, the obsessive persistence of both states of mind in the sufferer rapidly exhausts the patience of those closest to them. “We all feel anxious, we all feel depressed”, the kind but baffled partner, family member, friend says in exasperation, “but we get a grip and we carry on so get over it”. Which robust exhortation to the debilitated, demotivated, directionless subject only serves to drive them deeper down the dark, narrow corridor into complete isolation within the prison of the damaged self. And then where is there to go but even deeper?

Yes, we do all feel anxious and we do all feel depressed and these incidences are part of life’s rich and complex tapestry. Without movement across that wide spectrum between ecstasy and despair, no breadth of experience, acquisition of empirical knowledge and achievement of wisdom can be available to us. Anxiety can alert us to danger; it activates adrenaline and speeds up our capacity for swift intuition and accelerated thought. And depression is an inevitable consequence of the confounding of hope and the quenching of optimism. But the momentum of external events and our internal responses shift us out of decline and back into positive action.

Across the centuries writers, artists and composers have attempted to communicate through journals, letters, poems, paintings figurative and abstract and musical works simple and sophisticated something of the extremes of pain and anguish being experienced. But whilst there may be recognition by the reader, the spectator, the listener of the general quality and character of the pain, unless s/he has gone the distance him/herself the utter desolation that inspired the output will never transcend the mere aesthetic appreciation that will be the response.

Except for a two or three-year period in childhood, I had had no experience of the coruscating effects of acute anxiety and its corollary disabling depression. And then in my early 60s I was diagnosed first with the auto-immune condition sarcoidosis and then with prostate cancer. Apart from surgery for the cancer shortly after diagnosis, neither condition has actually impacted on my general physical well-being. But that dual confrontation with the potential for very significant degradation in my quality of life with the one and death with the other extinguished entirely in me that immortality gene that has us contemplating mortality as an issue that only others have to face. And the tsunami of anxiety that followed that extinction overwhelmed me completely. When it was at its most severe, I was entirely helpless: no amount of clear, measured, constantly repeated reasoning made the slightest difference. This stultifying impotence caught me completely unprepared and at its worse it unravelled me completely. Everything around me, immediate and removed, personal and functional – my family, my relationships, my work, my recreation – was blighted by the anxiety and during the worst of the bouts I experienced the world through a dark veil, barely able to manage the simplest of procedural tasks and falling into periods of deep depression. There were sequences of time within which the anxiety lifted, but always its shadow dogged me and I was increasingly conscious of the inevitability of its return.

I had counselling and two of my counsellors (amongst a succession of nodding-dog professional listeners whose sole contribution to each expensive session was to ask, “And how did that make you feel?”) helped me identify aspects of my early family life to which could be attributed sources for underlying neurosis and stress. But the avowedly non-participatory policy of all counselling rendered such relative progress slow at best and thus undeveloped and inconclusive in the long term. Finally I became frustrated with the resolute refusal of either of these very able, compassionate women to commit to any data evaluation or confirmation or denial of presumptions that I advanced in respect of my own self-analysis. after such a massive investment of time and emotional energy, I shan’t seek counselling again.

My situation now is somewhat more stable. I am still plagued by health anxieties, but the periods of absolute helplessness are fewer and marginally more negotiable whilst in place. I have never sought healing for what I know to be a profoundly complex and deeply-rooted condition. My intentions for the counselling were always directed at developing personal understanding and securing management so that my quality of life (and that of those most immediately affected by my times of incapacity) could be brought into some equilibrium.

So the battle is far from over and even if the war can’t be won, I’m still powerfully motivated to continue the process of winning more of the higher ground. Here’s how I see my interests, and by extension the interests of anyone else similarly afflicted, being served. There exist many anxiety/depression self-help groups across the United Kingdom and I’m sure that many of them provide for their participants very beneficially. But what I haven’t come across in my fairly extensive research is the sort of internal mutual aid structure that has been so effective in groups exploring the shared treatment of addictions, the prime example of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. Anxiety is an addiction with much of its power over the addict drawn from his/her obsessive compulsions. As with alcoholism, there is no cure for compulsive anxiety, but with the combination of one-to-one and whole group support for the sufferer at the core of the management process, the strength to resist obsession and find strategies to hold it at bay can be located. Again as with alcoholism, a degree of stigmatisation is associated with all mental health problems, particularly amongst men, whose readiness both to acknowledge and then discuss openly their difficulties can be a serious problem.

So I would be very interested in what might be offered to the anxiety obsessive by a self-help set-up that utilised the anonymity element of AA and similar organisations, ensuring that the participant could enter into and continue the process of treatment as an individual subject to no hierarchy and accountable only to the group. I’m no expert in this field; I have no medical qualifications or experience; I simply know what it feels like to be at the mercy at times of overwhelming anxiety. So I wonder if any of those for whom my experiences parallel their own might share the notion of an ‘Anxiety Unanimous’ grouping and see it as providing a forum for sharing and through it treatment towards that peace of mind that we all crave.

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LEST WE FORGET # 7.

A FIELD IN PASSCHENDAELE

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THE LIMO PARKED OUT FRONT..!

SYSIPHUS

Note alternative spelling…

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NO HOME BUT THE STRUGGLE…

NO HOME BUT THE STRUGGLE

Solomon Reményi: 1919 – 2017

You tread the edge
of this bright world
gingerly, unsteadily as if
for you it lay in shadow.

Old red heat grown dull
in the world still glows
in you: a bust of Uncle Joe
watches you dine

(cold commons in the kitchen
with the morning news) watched
by that photograph in passe-partout –
the comrades in the trenches

outside Burgos, 1936, all fags
and grins and black and white
bandannas. The flat’s upstairs –
steeper every month – above

an Asian minimart. Great confusion
yesterday when you asked
in early morning stupor
(stunned by a dream of Ronnie Gold

drunk in an alley after Cable Street)
for the long-gone Daily Worker.
Consternation too when leaning
on stick and counter you recalled

out loud young Harry Patchett who,
in September ’39, sung the Internationale
to his passengers as he clipped
their tickets on the 131

to Dalston Junction. Poor Salim –
too polite to interrupt – smiling
towards the shelves of catfood
planning reorientation round

a centralised display. Competition’s fierce
with Tesco Express by the roundabout.
Belts to be tightened, profits trimmed
this fiscal year. Family first, family first.

For you too, once, it was
family first: both grandparents
left the ghetto in a lorry –
Lodz had become too crowded

and they needed workers
somewhere east of the city.
Three years on you learned
the truth. You stood outside

The Greyhound by Whitechapel
Underground, the letter in your hand,
and wept without a sound;
wept not just for a photograph

of Papi and Baba, stiff and grim
in some Carpathian valley,
but for a sea that parted
once again, but a different sea

a red, unfathomable tide in flood,
now and forever. You wept without
a sound, even as Whitechapel fell
about your ears in 1944.

And you’re weeping now
with a squeezy bottle of
Domestos in your hand,
weeping for another world

that never really wobbled out
of night and into dawn: Uncle Joe,
your Catalonian comrades,
Harry Patchett, Ronnie Gold,

the red blood of the Party
beating deep and strong,
all gone, all gone to ashes.
Salim looks around for his mother.

What to do? He seems always
so sad, this solitary pensioner
who drops his coins, forgets
to pay his bills. “And where”,

his angry mother whispers,
“are his sons? Do they
not care that he’s shaving
in cold water? What

of his church? Can they not
take him in?” They help him
to the door. He smells of piss.
They shake their heads

and carry out the fruit and veg.
Such times with fortune hostage
to the flagship enterprises. What
a world, such changes, revolution

turning on a dollar dropped.
Solly under the dawn street light,
sodium shadows falling long
and ragged over the paving stones,

the unbending curb. What
a world, implacable, unchanging.
Solly treads the edge
of this dark world unsteadily.

Cable Street: An East London street in which in 1936 an epic battle was fought by Jews, Socialists, Communists & anti-fascists against Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – the British Union of Fascists – who were attempting to march through the Jewish quarter of the East End.

The Daily Worker: The old Communist Party of Great Britain newspaper. Morphed into the Morning Star, which still publishes weekly. 

Whitechapel Underground: A subway station in the heart of the East End, in an area subject to massive bomb damage.

***

LEAVING THE LEFT
For the nascent rebel between the wars, it was so much easier: mass unemployment, a shooting war against fascism, a Soviet Union, which, when caught by the light at a certain angle, might still be seen as a brave experiment, and a fully fledged class struggle complete with a noble proletariat and an effete ruling class. Anyone with half a mind and half a heart followed la bandiera rossa.

But for the noble prole, the reality was closer to the bone. The practical manifestation of class division and capitalism red in tooth and claw was starkly evident in the slums that scarred every major city.  Avenues upon which to escape from poverty and servitude were few and sparsely populated. Aspirations to social or financial betterment were dream scenarios fostered by the burgeoning film and advertising industries.
For the second time in one century the universal trauma of a global conflict wrought profound social, political and cultural change. Following the revelations of the Moscow Trials and the further excesses of Stalinism and of the Holocaust the nihilistic cynicism at the heart of the two great doctrinaire ideologies, Communism and Fascism, was exposed and their popular powerbase dissolved. The immediate post war years saw a reorientation on the Left with increased factionalism within its revolutionary wing and a broadening of belief and function within social democracy. In Britain the Labour Party absorbed over time a substantial number of previously zealous Marxists whose allegiance was now to a more evolutionary, consensus view of Socialism. The ideological journey for some of these erstwhile activists was, however, significantly more extreme, involving not only a complete recantation of previous belief but an enthusiastic embracing of its polar opposite.

Before Jeremy Corbyn blew a little heat back into the embers, one of our leading playwrights, David Edgar, wrote a fascinating account in The Guardian of this and subsequent schisms within the far Left. Seeking to account for the recurring phenomenon of political poachers turning into gamekeepers almost overnight (which he describes as the politics of defection), he makes particular reference to the post-1968 era. It was, he relates, a disorientating time during which, as the ‘70s progressed through ideological disillusionment and despair, many key figures of ‘the revolution’ on both sides of the Atlantic crossed the intervening territory between left and right in a few mighty strides. He cites in the United States Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver, David Horowitz and P.J. O’Rourke and in Britain Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and erstwhile Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.

He attributes to many of them what he calls Kronstadt moments (‘Kronstadt’ referring to the brutal Bolshevik suppression of a post-revolutionary sailors’ revolt in the St Petersburg port of the same name.) These ‘moments’ have two principle causes, he believes. In the first instance individuals were motivated by their experience of far-left organisations: their authoritarianism and manipulation, their contempt for allies as “useful idiots”, their insistence that the end justifies the means and that deceit is a class duty, their refusal to take anything anyone else says at face value (dismissing disagreement as cowardice or class treachery) and, most of all, their dismissal as “bourgeois” of the very ideals that draw people to the left in the first place. He quotes poet and socialist activist of the ‘30s and ‘40s Stephen Spender: (T)he communist, having joined the party, has to castrate himself of the reasons which made him one.

But a Kronstadt moment may well arise from another source, a species of purblind naivety. Hard enough to be fooled by the party, he writes; even harder to accept that you deluded yourself into believing that the poor are, by virtue of their poverty, uniquely saintly or strong. No surprise that this realisation turns into a sense of personal betrayal, which turns outwards into blame. (And for ‘poor’, of course, read ‘black’ or ‘female’.) This appalled realisation, this sense of betrayal compounding an antithetical reaction to the Left’s authoritarianism and manipulation might well help to account for the magnitude of spectrum shift managed by some of the renegades. Emancipatory ideals were what drew them to Socialism in the first place – a vision of a just world within a new social structure – and the stifling of the ideals by the Left’s suffocating orthodoxy and the evaporation of the romantic vision in the face of banal reality unravelled dreams and broke hearts.

David Edgar quotes Robert Frost: I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old. Somehow I seem to have avoided a Kronstadt moment in those turbulent decades since 1968.  My Left always eschewed dogma and the dead hand of prescriptive orthodoxy. Whilst on the demos of the ‘60s others were marching grim faced and shoulder-to-shoulder beneath the hammer-and-sickle with the Trots, I was running wild beneath the black flags of the anarchists. Too middle class to do much more than bellow surreal slogans at sceptical onlookers, we proclaimed D.H. Lawrence’s ethic of making a revolution for fun. For us the notion of revolutionary process and product were indissoluble. And since we wanted a world in which love was the law, the cynical adherence to the contradictory principle of ends justifying means was incomprehensible. As for being driven forward by a touching faith in a noble proletariat waiting for the watch fires to go up before seizing the means of production, we knew all along that anarchism was a bottom-to-top hearts and mind job.

So whilst I might have woken up one morning to the realisation that love and fellowship were not immediately at hand and the bad capitalists were still kings of the castle, no Kronstadt moment laid me low. Wishy-washy, unstructured, unscientific, naïve and millennial, yes. But I’ve always favoured Emma Goldman – If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – over Lenin – It is true that liberty is precious: so precious that it must be rationed. So I’m staying put over here.

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NO HOME BUT THE STRUGGLE

Solomon Reményi: 1919 – 2017

You tread the edge
of this bright world
gingerly, unsteadily as if
for you it lay in shadow.

Old red heat grown dull
in the world still glows
in you: a bust of Uncle Joe
watches you dine

(cold commons in the kitchen
with the morning news) watched
by that photograph in passe-partout –
the comrades in the trenches

outside Burgos, 1936, all fags
and grins and black and white
bandannas. The flat’s upstairs –
steeper every month – above

an Asian minimart. Great confusion
yesterday when you asked
in early morning stupor
(stunned by a dream of Ronnie Gold

drunk in an alley after Cable Street)
for the long-gone Daily Worker.
Consternation too when leaning
on stick and counter you recalled

out loud young Harry Patchett who,
in September ’39, sung the Internationale
to his passengers as he clipped
their tickets on the 131

to Dalston Junction. Poor Salim –
too polite to interrupt – smiling
towards the shelves of catfood
planning reorientation round

a centralised display. Competition’s fierce
with Tesco Express by the roundabout.
Belts to be tightened, profits trimmed
this fiscal year. Family first, family first.

For you too, once, it was
family first: both grandparents
left the ghetto in a lorry –
Lodz had become too crowded

and they needed workers
somewhere east of the city.
Three years on you learned
the truth. You stood outside

The Greyhound by Whitechapel
Underground, the letter in your hand,
and wept without a sound;
wept not just for a photograph

of Papi and Baba, stiff and grim
in some Carpathian valley,
but for a sea that parted
once again, but a different sea

a red, unfathomable tide in flood,
now and forever. You wept without
a sound, even as Whitechapel fell
about your ears in 1944.

And you’re weeping now
with a squeezy bottle of
Domestos in your hand,
weeping for another world

that never really wobbled out
of night and into dawn: Uncle Joe,
your Catalonian comrades,
Harry Patchett, Ronnie Gold,

the red blood of the Party
beating deep and strong,
all gone, all gone to ashes.
Salim looks around for his mother.

What to do? He seems always
so sad, this solitary pensioner
who drops his coins, forgets
to pay his bills. “And where”,

his angry mother whispers,
“are his sons? Do they
not care that he’s shaving
in cold water? What

of his church? Can they not
take him in?” They help him
to the door. He smells of piss.
They shake their heads

and carry out the fruit and veg.
Such times with fortune hostage
to the flagship enterprises. What
a world, such changes, revolution

turning on a dollar dropped.
Solly under the dawn street light,
sodium shadows falling long
and ragged over the paving stones,

the unbending curb. What
a world, implacable, unchanging.
Solly treads the edge
of this dark world unsteadily.

Cable Street: An East London street in which in 1936 an epic battle was fought by Jews, Socialists, Communists & anti-fascists against Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – the British Union of Fascists – who were attempting to march through the Jewish quarter of the East End.

The Daily Worker: The old Communist Party of Great Britain daily, long ago morphed into the Morning Star, which now publishes weekly.

Whitechapel Underground: A subway station in the heart of the East End, in an area subject to massive bomb damage.

:: :: ::

LEAVING THE LEFT

For the nascent rebel between the wars, it was so much easier: mass unemployment, a shooting war against fascism, a Soviet Union, which, when caught by the light at a certain angle, might still be seen as a brave experiment, and a fully fledged class struggle complete with a noble proletariat and an effete ruling class. Anyone with half a mind and half a heart followed la bandiera rossa.

But for the noble prole, the reality was closer to the bone. The practical manifestation of class division and capitalism red in tooth and claw was starkly evident in the slums that scarred every major city.  Avenues upon which to escape from poverty and servitude were few and sparsely populated. Aspirations to social or financial betterment were dream scenarios fostered by the burgeoning film and advertising industries.

For the second time in one century the universal trauma of a global conflict wrought profound social, political and cultural change. Following the revelations of the Moscow Trials and the further excesses of Stalinism and of the Holocaust the nihilistic cynicism at the heart of the two great doctrinaire ideologies, Communism and Fascism, was exposed and their popular powerbase dissolved. The immediate post war years saw a reorientation on the Left with increased factionalism within its revolutionary wing and a broadening of belief and function within social democracy. In Britain the Labour Party absorbed over time a substantial number of previously zealous Marxists whose allegiance was now to a more evolutionary, consensus view of Socialism. The ideological journey for some of these erstwhile activists was, however, significantly more extreme, involving not only a complete recantation of previous belief but an enthusiastic embracing of its polar opposite.

Before Jeremy Corbyn blew a little heat back into the embers, one of our leading playwrights, David Edgar, wrote a fascinating account in The Guardian of this and subsequent schisms within the far Left. Seeking to account for the recurring phenomenon of political poachers turning into gamekeepers almost overnight (which he describes as the politics of defection), he makes particular reference to the post-1968 era. It was, he relates, a disorientating time during which, as the ‘70s progressed through ideological disillusionment and despair, many key figures of ‘the revolution’ on both sides of the Atlantic crossed the intervening territory between left and right in a few mighty strides. He cites in the United States Jerry Rubin, Eldridge Cleaver, David Horowitz and P.J. O’Rourke and in Britain Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens and erstwhile Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. ny of them what he calls Kronstadt moments (‘Kronstadt’ referring to the brutal Bolshevik suppression of a post-revolutionary sailors’ revolt in the St Petersburg port of the same name.) These ‘moments’ have two principle causes, he believes. In the first instance individuals were motivated by their experience of far-left organisations: their authoritarianism and manipulation, their contempt for allies as “useful idiots”, their insistence that the end justifies the means and that deceit is a class duty, their refusal to take anything anyone else says at face value (dismissing disagreement as cowardice or class treachery) and, most of all, their dismissal as “bourgeois” of the very ideals that draw people to the left in the first place. He quotes poet and socialist activist of the ‘30s and ‘40s Stephen Spender: (T)he communist, having joined the party, has to castrate himself of the reasons which made him one.

But a Kronstadt moment may well arise from another source, a species of purblind naivety. Hard enough to be fooled by the party, he writes; even harder to accept that you deluded yourself into believing that the poor are, by virtue of their poverty, uniquely saintly or strong. No surprise that this realisation turns into a sense of personal betrayal, which turns outwards into blame. (And for ‘poor’, of course, read ‘black’ or ‘female’.) This appalled realisation, this sense of betrayal compounding an antithetical reaction to the Left’s authoritarianism and manipulation might well help to account for the magnitude of spectrum shift managed by some of the renegades. Emancipatory ideals were what drew them to Socialism in the first place – a vision of a just world within a new social structure – and the stifling of the ideals by the Left’s suffocating orthodoxy and the evaporation of the romantic vision in the face of banal reality unravelled dreams and broke hearts.

David Edgar quotes Robert Frost: I never dared to be radical when young, for fear it would make me conservative when old. Somehow I seem to have avoided a Kronstadt moment in those turbulent decades since 1968.  My Left always eschewed dogma and the dead hand of prescriptive orthodoxy. Whilst on the demos of the ‘60s others were marching grim faced and shoulder-to-shoulder beneath the hammer-and-sickle with the Trots, I was running wild beneath the black flags of the anarchists. Too middle class to do much more than bellow surreal slogans at sceptical onlookers, we proclaimed D.H. Lawrence’s ethic of making a revolution for fun. For us the notion of revolutionary process and product were indissoluble. And since we wanted a world in which love was the law, the cynical adherence to the contradictory principle of ends justifying means was incomprehensible. As for being driven forward by a touching faith in a noble proletariat waiting for the watch fires to go up before seizing the means of production, we knew all along that anarchism was a bottom-to-top hearts and mind job.

So whilst I might have woken up one morning to the realisation that love and fellowship were not immediately at hand and the bad capitalists were still kings of the castle, no Kronstadt moment laid me low. Wishy-washy, unstructured, unscientific, naïve and millennial, yes. But I’ve always favoured Emma Goldman – If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution – over Lenin – It is true that liberty is precious: so precious that it must be rationed. So I’m staying put over here.

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NO MORE HEROES!

455px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-W0409-300,_Bertolt_Brecht

Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.
BERTOLD BRECHT

We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
WILL ROGERS

Il n’y a pas de grand homme pour son valet-de-chambre.]
MME A.M. BIGOT DE CORNUEL

A man can be a hero if he is a scientist, or a soldier, or a drug addict, or a disc jockey, or a crummy mediocre politician. A man can be a hero because he suffers and despairs; or because he thinks logically and analytically; or because he is “sensitive;” or because he is cruel. Wealth establishes a man as a hero, and so does poverty. Virtually any circumstance in a man’s life will make him a hero to some group of people and has a mythic rendering in the culture — in literature, art, theater, or the daily newspapers.
ANDREA DWORKIN

Bardot, Byron, Hitler, Hemingway, Monroe, Sade: we do not require our heroes to be subtle, just to be big. Then we can depend on someone to make them subtle.
D.J. ENRIGHT

The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them.
JEAN GENET

When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.
ALLEN GINSBERG (paraphrasing Plato)

Although still, by and large, an unreconstructed hippy at the time of its inception, I was very taken with the punk movement that swept away the last traces of paisley and patchouli oil at the end of the ‘70s. What impressed me most was that within all that glorious over-reaction and comedy bombast there was an ethos that, although crude and undeveloped, had about it a degree of honesty and authenticity almost entirely lacking from the, by now, largely burned out and discredited ‘alternative society’. Where specious attempts had been made to elevate to the status of a functional philosophy for everyday living the unfocussed and contradictory liberalism at the heart of hippie-dom, the punk impulse was simply to blow away the fairy dust with one almighty blast of feedback. All the spurious codes of unconditional ‘respect’ for the individual, er…no, the community, er…well, for both, then, that shored up the world of the Freaks and the Heads were simply ignored. All the unquestioning adulation that extrapolated unusual proficiency on a music instrument to all other regions of mind and spirit was laughed to scorn and the great hippie icons began to tumble.

For all the adolescent sound and fury that came with this sudden grassroots revolution, I found it all thoroughly refreshing, indeed liberating. There was enough dadaist and situationist know-how seasoned with good, old-fashioned British anarchism alongside the pure street suss to indicate at least a degree of conscious political and philosophical subversion. And many of the most sorted of the core dissenters whose gleeful iconoclasm had sparked off the original UK hippie bonfires moved comfortably across to the new positions along the barricades. So I became a gleeful onlooker as locks were shorn and jeans were torn all around whilst the bloated denizens of prog rock blundered onwards, seemingly oblivious to what was happening to the walls now that the mode of the music had changed. When The Stranglers brought out No More Heroes in 1977 and it became, for a brief while, the mocking anthem of a generation determined to deny even 15 minutes of fame to those thrust upon them by a confused music industry, I was delighted. And now, all these years later, I am as grateful for the hangover from those times of cheerful contempt for all forms of solemn and hitherto largely unassailable authority as I am for the more substantive freedoms whose shoots broke ground 10 years earlier.

Brecht had stated 30 years earlier, ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes’. Whilst Hugh Cornwell’s entire lyric to No More Heroes may contain considerably less political acumen than that single utterance, nonetheless it did embody at that time something of the sense of a generation eschewing unquestioned status, rank, privilege, authority. It was this wholesale rejection of the cult of the individual that I found particularly invigorating. At last, it seemed, emperors everywhere were to be divested of their clothing. Not that it was to last…

Since childhood I have been uncomfortable with the notion of heroism. Not with the recognition that we accord to those modest souls who conquer fear and circumstance to perform acts of selfless courage. It’s our readiness to attribute to individuals who have eminence in one sphere, however spurious, a sort of cascading universality of esteem way beyond its original territory that troubles me. And my unease is made the greater by the fact that, far from carrying forward with us some vestige of that brief sardonic rejection of on-the-spot immortality, we seem to be afflicted anew with a hunger for heroes more intense than ever before.

In fact, we’re so starved of circumstantial heroes that we actually have to manufacture them in order to feed the public greed. The organisers of so-called ‘reality shows’ (and what media cynic is till grinning wolfishly at that piece of ironic nomenclature?) dip the net into the piranha pool and a small selection of ordinary, everyday monomaniacs is scooped out and placed in a sealed environment. The world watches as their rapacious ambition flares up into open conflict and, like the Roman Mob only more executively powerful, our thumbs are raised or turned down until only one survivor remains. And then, our having exercised total power over their day-to-day fate, we reward them by raising them up on our shoulders and parading them through the streets. Or more specifically by turning yesterday’s motor mechanic or dental nurse into a game show host, or a serial talk show guest, or simply a sad, yelling drunk drawing a fat cheque for falling out of the back of a cab outside a society party. At which point in their careers as celebrities famous only for being famous our worship is expressed at its most slavish.

Equally perverse, it seems to me, is what might be termed the guru tendency. In a world within which tools for self-determination and personal autonomy have never been closer to hand, we seem increasingly to need the advice and guidance of experts and the prescriptive direction of gurus. In fact, far from utilising information technology to consolidate our relative freedoms, many of us use it to lock ourselves into an electronic chain of command within the links of which our security is assured.

Nor does the dissolution of organised religion in the West seem to have brought us either into a closer, more negotiated, more intimate relationship with God or a willing, courageous, even welcomed denial of his existence. Into the vacuum left by the departure of God as the patrician teacher and judge there has been sucked a cataract of gimcrack gurus each dispensing his or her patent horse pills by the cartload to the willing punters. And where the patrician teacher and judge still prevails – or prevails anew – he does so with renewed vigour, trading on nostalgia for analogue certainties in these days of digital flux.

It seems that we cannot relinquish the need to lionise, to worship, to adulate, to demand from our peers that one of them at least rise above the herd to characterise some model of perfection. Not a model that will then represent goals towards which we might aspire, but a model in whose long shadow we might shelter when times are tough and the night is dark.

I don’t think I’ve ever really had any heroes. When I was 5 or 6 Winston Churchill’s name still struck gold; we kids in playground and street accepted as an article of faith that he was the warrior-god who had delivered our mums and dads from the Nazi hordes. My parents took me to see the film Hans Christian Andersen at the Kingston Granada cinema and the following day down the river at Sunbury Danny Kaye sat himself down at the neighbouring table in our favourite Italian restaurant. I got his autograph and for a long time afterwards I felt that I’d been touched by the gods. At around the same time the Queen smiled at me from her passing car as I struggled at the front of the roadside crowd with the family dog in my arms. For a week or two I speculated about the possibility of a summons to the palace so that she might get a closer look.

But somehow, over the years, neither rock-and-roll nor film nor football yielded up the gilded hero for me. Somehow it was always apparent that, however pronounced the talent, the pretender still bathed naked and had difficulty with simple sums. Somehow it was always apparent that if it was appropriate to be inarticulate with terror in the presence of the guitar god then obeisance should be made to the plumber too whose magical skills cleared the blocked drains. Unhesitatingly, I blame the parents. My mother and father were entirely without snobbery in either direction. All manner of folk passed through our house and were perceived equally. My parents sent me to progressive schools whose populations simply comprised small people and larger people with no clear differentiation as to rights and privileges drawn between them. So in my formative years the learning processes that lead to status ascription just didn’t seem to happen. Ever since, I have had to read carefully the interactional expectations of authority figures so as not to offend or confuse. And when in authority myself, I have had to modify my behaviour according to what I anticipate to be the expectations of those subject to my sway.

And, all in all, I am mightily glad of this curious freedom. To be able to admire and respect substantively and enduringly without according authority beyond the field of the perceived quality seems to me a valuable asset. But it’s not one that has been hard won; it has been taught, not caught and I am grateful to my parents and to those others whose inculcation of particular values seems to have obviated in me the need to have heroes.

 

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BETWEEN THE LINES… # 1.

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Back in the days when blogs ruled the earth – well, when they constituted pretty much the sole medium of digital interaction – it used to matter to me greatly that I was reaching out to a regular and reasonably substantial readership. The raison d’être of Dick Jones’ Patteran Pages was the maintenance of an ongoing dialogue with both my fellow bloggers and those readers who were consumers rather than producers.

So happy days were when I posted an item over which I’d taken some time and trouble and the comment window came alive with responses. Approval, admiration, crowd-pleasing weren’t the objectives; communication was the principal aim. And many vigorous and free-flowing dialogues resulted back in the day from the combination of stimulus and acknowledgement. 

To some extent, that kind of dialectic does come about via status updates on Facebook. But such is the fast-food turnover of posts, many promising threads go cold within the space of a handful of comments, or simply don’t register at all, the subject matter and those reactions that it has, in the instant, provoked slung out with the pizza crusts. 

This now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t phenomenon is particularly evident with more personalised material. Poems rarely pick up any response; the same is true of home-brew musical items. Yes, they might be universally perceived as crap; I acknowledge this possibility. But both garnering some approval when shared in other contexts has me walking the narrow path between ‘tread softly because you tread on my dreams’ and ‘stand back, genius in the room’! So I’m motivated thereby to find a home for these less patronised products where anyone so inclined might be able to access them at their leisure.

Hence the revival of the blog. The old days are past. Only a tiny handful of those bloggers with whom I once shared densely populated hillsides and valleys are still in original residence. Most have, like me, moved house and home to the vast and noisy condominium that is Facebook. However, three of them – Natalie, Beth and Dave (all of us close friends now) – have managed to coordinate dual residence, their blogs remaining rich resources of enduring quality and their Facebook pages acting both as interactional media and conduits to those blogs.

I started blogging behind the shingle of Dick Jones’ Patteran Pages back in February 2003, using the fearsomely clunky weblog technology employed by the liberal/left media giant Salon, operating back then in its earliest incarnation but innovative enough to want to host one of the first blogging platforms. The original notion was to use the Patteran Pages  simply as an online diary, but over time as both the technology and my own expertise gathered strength and range, it became a great deal more than that. I kept going until 2015 and then, increasingly conscious that I was at the dark end of the street in something of as ghost town, with few regrets I moved out. Liberated now from any need or desire to stretch communication between the slow-cooked, marinated blog post and a regular constituency of eager readers, I’m powerfully motivated to return to the blog, this time functioning as a repository of material that will, as time passes, archive itself for my own satisfaction. And once again the intention is simply to maintain a regular, if not absolutely calendar-bound, diary whose content may be witnessed by others but whose purpose and value will have priority first and foremost for myself.

DJ+1

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