Archive | April 2016

What now after Hillsborough?

 

Two serious blogs in three days but I make no apologies for it. Events are crowding in upon us and after the legal vindication of the fans at Hillsborough, there are things that need to be said.

The headline in The Sun at the time was deliberately crude and vicious and it has now been proved to have been a total lie. Far from behaving in the way The Sun described, the fans at Hillsborough, did everything they could to help one another. The police made serious mistakes on that occasion and are now facing the consequences but there should also be consequences for the newspaper men who decided to vilify the men, women and children who were killed in this appalling event.

The time has surely come for those who tell deliberate lies to face up to the horror of what they’ve done and are still doing. These young men and women didn’t ‘pick the victims pockets’, they did everything they could to help them, they didn’t ‘urinate on the brave cops’ they were too busy trying to save lives, and when the lives were lost, too full of grief to beat anyone up. Shall we now see Kelvin Mackenzie in a court of law? I sincerely hope so. And if there are others in that newspaper equally at fault, they should be brought to book too. The 27 years the supporters of the Hillsborough 96 demands no less.

But the appalling behaviour of the senior police at this terrible event did not spring out of the blue. It was the result of many years in which our police force had been used by Maggie Thatcher as storm troopers in her battle to break the miners’ union and close down the pits. Unfortunately, they weren’t just following her orders they were copying her ideology. The events at Orgreave showed that hideously clearly. The miners had been demonised and could be treated like criminals. I hardly need to comment on the photo below, it says it all.

At Orgreave the police were used in large numbers and not merely at the pit head but all along the motorways, where supporters were driving in to show solidarity with the miners and to try to help them in anyway they could. But by then, it had become a crime to stand alongside your mates.

Now and then, simple human contacts were made. The faces in this picture demonstrate that very clearly. Under the helmets and the uniform there are normal human beings, capable of affection, understanding and kindness, all the virtues that a repressive state sneers at and belittles. Thank God for those who break through the barriers. They show that ‘you never walk alone’.

Now too, thank God for justice, even if it is horribly belated. Let’s have a little more of it. It’s been in hideously short supply for 27 years.

 

This entry was posted on April 28, 2016. 2 Comments

What’s happened to social mobility?

This blog has sprung out of a fascinating conversation which I enjoyed on Facebook a few days ago. Danuta Kean was considering the lack of opportunities for working class, especially coloured working class actors on our stage. A director she interviewed had said. ‘The privileged pay lip service to diversity but keep everything at base level so everything remains intact.’ It provoked a lively exchange and many very sensible things were said. Amanda Craig pointed out that ‘It’s no use being sentimental or cynical about the problem.  The only duty is to see the truth about each individual as circumstances allow.’ It made me remember this picture, two sets of children of a similar age but with entirely different outlook and prospects. The Eaton boys who naturally expect to go on to Oxbridge and then into Government, the working class boys who expect very little.

The truth is that as we are all formed by our upbringing and education that we receive and consequently the way we behave and the opinions we hold have very deep, social roots. Education has always been a means of social control. When I was young a very small proportion of state educated children got to grammar school via the 11+, in London it was 20%, in South Wales 25%, in West Sussex only 11%. The children who failed the 11+ had lost their chance in life and knew it. At the end of the World War 2 our new government was determined to alter this and brought in comprehensive schools believing that all children should be given the chance to develop as many talents and skills as they could and that none should be thrown on the scrap heap at 11. There were many who fought the idea tooth and nail, but many more – like me – who backed it and did everything we could to bring it about and make it a success. Now sadly the clock is being put back.

Education is now largely about taking examinations. There is very little time for the children to learn through the joys of play, like these little ones below.

 

Many of our children get to university, achieve a degree and then find that there is no work suitable for them. Many end up stacking shelves in Tesco’s or serving in other shops, the increase in graduates has not been planned for or thought through.

And in the meantime, the rich have become steadily more and more obscenely wealthy and more and more determined to preserve the status quo which serves them so well. Sir Philip Green who inherited his family business at the age of 12, has just thrown 11,000 of his workers out of work and left British Home Stores with a pension deficit of £571 million, nevertheless collecting £586 million in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans for himself. Social extremes couldn’t be more clearly indicated then by facts like these.

 

This entry was posted on April 26, 2016. 2 Comments

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!

So it won’t surprise you to know that that’s where I’ve been for the past 5 days. Not strolling ‘along the prom, prom, prom,’ because there isn’t one at Whitstable but ambling round the harbour and eating one delicious fish dish after another until it’s a wonder I haven’t grown gills. I had a good excuse for all this self-indulgent behaviour. When I haven’t been eating and meeting up with friends and being pampered rotten at the Continental Hotel, I’ve been researching for book 29, part of which, I’m setting in the town. This is cheating because I like the place very much and researching it means I’ve just got to go back several times during the next year!

So what have I been doing and what have I been seeing? Well for a start I spent a morning in an excellent primary school. The key words in the place are written over the entrance in splendid technicolour ‘Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control’ and even if the words hadn’t been written down, you know almost at once that this is a school where staff and children are loving and encouraging to one another. Apart from taking notes, I joined in during one of the English lessons and answered questions that came thick, fast and intelligently from all quarters of the room. Great fun.

I visited the library (naturally), tried to visit a museum but it was closed – better luck next time – and had a great time in the Playhouse theatre, which is exactly what anyone could want in a local theatre, warm, welcoming and decorated in red and gold, like all the best Edwardian theatres. The young man who showed me round was much enamoured of it. And who could blame him. The frontage was splendidly Edwardian too, decorated in white, with one eye catching red poster right in the middle, advertising the next show. My bolshie heroine will simply have to go and work there. It’s too good to miss.

So now I’m home too full of fish to move and with my pen in my hand. The things we authors do for our art!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can we counteract Government propaganda

The masks are slipping part 2 or how can we going to counteract the heavy government propaganda we’ve all been subjected to for the last 5 or 6 years. When, like me, you talk so much to people who share your views, it’s very tempting to imagine that most people think the same as you do and it comes as a considerable shock to sit in on a conversation between people who honestly and trustingly believe what they have been told, as I did last week. They were all such well meaning people, happily agreeing that most politicians are honest and doing their best, and that most people cheat HMRC in order to put money by to support their children and grandchildren. The conversation was predominately cheerful and almost entirely based on political untruths. I moved away from it feeling very cast down.

The trouble is that propaganda is so easy and so powerful, Dr Goebbels said ‘if you tell a lie often enough, it becomes the truth,’ and when Hitler came to power he followed the repellent doctor’s advice to the letter. His first propaganda campaign led to the most hideous anti-Semitism and eventually and almost inevitably to the Holocaust. It began with a crude but deliberate vilification of the group of people who were going to have to carry the blame for everything that was wrong in Germany, like massive unemployment, poverty, poor pay and the general sense of defeat and depression that followed the first world war. Just take a look at the sort of posters Germans saw as they walked about their streets.

 

 

 

 

Hitler’s propaganda may have been crude, but it was still effective. It wasn’t long before Germans were beating Jews up in the streets, painting the Star of David on Jewish shops and breaking the shop windows and cheering as they were led away to the cattle trucks and the concentration camps.

It is sad to say that nowadays a scapegoat group is chosen by politicians in much the same way but with more subtle persuasion. I’ve watched several groups of people tarred as scapegoats in my own lifetime. When I was a child it was the Irish, in the ’50’s it was ‘blacks’, now it is ‘scroungers’ and ‘idlers’ and ‘hordes’ of refugees who have to be stopped before they can ‘flood’ over the borders and ruin our economy. There are people in our society now who are already blaming the chosen groups for the difficulties they face in a society completely under the power of the moneyed elite, who are of course, perfect and completely honest. All of which begs the very pertinent question, how on earth can we persuade people who have been given a lifetime of ‘perception programming’ that what they believe is based on falsehood?

Perhaps a deconstruction of Cameron’s speech to his faithful followers at The Grand Connaught Rooms might help. The man is a consummate liar and a skilful actor. He knows how to manipulate his audience. Lets watch him doing it.

First of all he said that of course he was going to apologise, but he didn’t actually say sorry that he was salting away so many millions, in his fathers offshore tax-haven. No, what he apologised for was that he had ‘handled it badly’ but that was because – cue for tug at the heart strings – he was so upset to see his father, whom he loved deeply, maligned. Oh sob, sob! Actually nobody had been maligning his father, what we were all interested in was how and why the man had salted away his vast fortune, so that he didn’t have to pay any tax on it. Having brushed that uncomfortable truth out of the way by ignoring it, our beloved PM played his next propaganda card. He said he took all the blame. Nobody was to blame his advisers – cue for us all to think what a fine and noble man he was to take the blame and let his advisers off the hook -. Actually nobody had ever blamed them, it was Cameron’s tax avoidance that we were, and still are, interested in. But no matter. His forehead shone with sweat and nobility. Then followed a passionate avowal that he hadn’t done anything illegal. Well of course you haven’t Dodgy Dave. After all, you and your friends in the house, make the law. Your actions are certainly immoral, selfish and greedy but not illegal.

But although I’m poking fun at this particular speech, the art of propaganda is not funny, it never was.  And even when we’ve been watching it in full flow, it leaves us with the massive problem of trying to work out how to counteract it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on April 13, 2016. 5 Comments

The masks are slipping

Since the revelations in the Panama papers, we now know that half of the 300,000 clients of Mossack Fouseca who were named in the leak are British. Even I was shattered by that for it’s a lot of obscenely wealthy, non-taxpaying parasites that you and I and millions of others like us, are carrying. Top of the pack, of course, is David Cameron, who was pressed for answers in the House and elsewhere and gave what Jeremy Corbyn called ‘5 weasel-worded statements in 5 days’ before he decided that he would tell a small part of the truth, carefully packaged. He did manage to admit that he owned shares in the tax haven fund, but said he’d sold them for £31,500 just before becoming PM. He and Samantha had had shares too, but they’d sold them too. He didn’t know whether the £300,000 he had inherited from his father had benefited from tax-haven status. Well fancy that!! Nothing he had done was illegal. Well of course not! After all, he makes the laws, he should know.

The truth of it is that we are all being ripped off by the obscenely rich and greedy, who are determined to pay as little tax as possible, so as to cling-on to their wealth, which is so enormous that they couldn’t spend it all even on the most ostentatious spending spree, even if they were to keep going for 10 or 20 lifetimes. If they are politicians, they are making sure that we ordinary plebs, who earn very little and certainly can’t afford to put any money we have in an offshore tax-haven, pay as much tax as they can screw out of us and are given less and less in any benefits we may have earned through the taxes and NICs we’ve already paid. It is a terrible example of there being one law for the rich and another for the rest of us. Is it any wonder that angry people are out on the streets demanding that the PM should resign. And yes, they were out this weekend, although you might have missed it because the rich man’s media was very careful not to let you see it.

There are so many rich men and women, stashing their money away. 300,000 of them. I wish I could print pictures of all the lot, so you can see who they are, but here’s a sample.

 

 

Of course, some of these fellers are nouveaux riches, celebs and sportsmen who have made their money out of big deals and see no reason why they shouldn’t hang on to all of it, but most of them, the politicians and bankers for example, know perfectly well what they are doing and fully intend to go on doing it, if they can get away with it. Thank God for our dogged, highly principled Jeremy Corbyn, who has pointed out that, if the very rich do not pay their taxes, what they are actually doing is taking money that was meant for schools and hospitals out of the pockets of ordinary people, closing libraries, running all of our necessary services down, including our precious NHS. Every time they use a road or an airport or have their rubbish collected or flush the toilet, they are using a service paid for by taxes and they need to be reminded of it. Every time they stash more money away in a tax-haven they are depriving our necessary social services of the use of it. It’s high time this dishonest dealing was stopped. And maybe that time has come. The masks are certainly slipping, the
protesters are out on the streets. The times are changing. These guys had better watch out.

‘Rise like lions after slumber,

In unvanquishable number,

Shake your chains to earth like dew,

Which in sleep had fallen on you.

Ye are many – they are few’

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted on April 10, 2016. 3 Comments

The mystery of the parcel

The mystery of the parcel, or ‘curiouser and curiouser’ or, as my friends said as they saw the contents ‘What the hell is that?!’ What indeed?

But to begin at the beginning. The parcel was delivered on Saturday. I didn’t expect it, certainly hadn’t ordered it and was extremely puzzled as to what it might be and who could possibly have sent it to me.

Was it a leg warmer and if it was, what were you supposed to do with the rest of it, which is too narrow to make a blanket? Here I am modelling it.

Was it perhaps a knitted version of a klu-klux-klan hood? Here I am trying that idea out and suffocating myself in the process.

Was it a mermaid outfit? Had it perhaps been sent by a fan who had read my book Francesca and the Mermaid and enjoyed it? If it was, she was a jolly tall mermaid, for it measures 6ft 8 inches from the beginning of her tail to the top of the cloak/blanket/whatever. They must have thought I was very tall – just look at the length of it spread out on the carpet in my library. Step forward all you ‘body in the library’ fans, Agatha Christie would have known what it is.

But on a more serious note, I’m wondering how on earth it got sent to me and why it arrived without a covering note to explain what it was and to tell me who’d sent it. There was nothing on the parcel itself to give me any clue. I’ve done a certain amount of detective work on it but I haven’t got very far. The courier who delivered it, Yodel, told me it had been given to them by customs,

 

and finally, after a lot of effort, sent me a contact address in Shenzen in China. When I Googled them I discovered that they had an email address @globalegrow.com which turned out to be an e-commerce business, one of which was ‘Sammy Dress’ and when my granddaughter Googled that, lo and behold she found the object itself which the blurb told us was a ‘chic knitted warm fishtail blanket for women’. You could have fooled me!

So this is really a cry for help, is there anyone out there who knows who sent it to me? Or failing that, anyone out there who is 6ft 8 tall and would like a warm fishtail blanket?

 

This entry was posted on April 6, 2016. 8 Comments

Make it stop!

I saw a passionate cri de coeur on Facebook this morning from a literary agent. ‘Our libraries are valuable’ she said. ‘We need them. We mustn’t let them be closed.’ Perfectly true but saying so, won’t make it so. All over the country people are coming out on the streets to say the same sort of things about a whole variety of jobs and social services. There’s a splendid determination about them all. If by saying ‘Look this has got to stop’ they could achieve the results we all want, then they would do it.

Look at the wonderfully determined backs of these firemen. They know very well that closing fire stations will not improve the service, but will make their lives and the lives of people caught in fires, much more difficult.

 

Look at the doctors and nurses and hospital support staff. They know that closing A&E departments, starving the NHS of the funds we’ve all paid towards it with our NICs and our taxes, is making their work ten times more difficult and putting patients lives and well-being at risk. They care about this very deeply and rightly. Talk to any of them and they will tell you how dire the situation is.

Even the libraries are not immune from cuts and privatisation, despite library supporters coming out onto the streets and hanging banners in front of the libraries they are trying to defend. Thousands of libraries have gone already. 111 are planned to go. The cuts go on despite what people are saying. And they will go on, because saying ‘Don’t do it’ won’t make our political leaders stop.

Look at the teachers, very aware that their schools are being privatised to make money for private companies, that children are being given more and more tests and examinations to satisfy the greed of the private companies who run them and are paid to do so from the taxes we have all willingly  paid to ensure a good education for our children. Here they are saying ‘No to pay cuts.’ ‘No more examinations.’ ‘Let our children learn.’

And now in the last few days when our leaders thought we would all be on holiday and not notice, what is left of our once great steel industry is threatened with closure. Is it any wonder the steel men have joined all the rest of us in our protests. ‘This has got to stop.’ ‘Save our steel communities.’


But sadly, sadly, every single one of our voices will be ignored by a government determined to privatise as widely and thoroughly as they can, no matter how cruel it can be because there is so much money to be made out of it by them and their friends and because it seems to be a foolproof way of pushing the ordinary people in this country back to the subservient state they were in, in the thirties. There is only one way to stop a government as determined  as this one, and that is through the ballot box. One of the few good things that could come from all this unrest and all this angry protest is that groups could eventually make contact with one another, could organise joint demonstrations, best of all could spread the word about what is actually going on.

If a funny, old woman can advise you, oh all you wonderful, angry, necessary protesters, don’t just get aggrieved, get together.