I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the way so many politicians say one thing and do another, and how often their actions contradict their words. They brag and bray about the wonderful things they are going to do for us – they’re very good at ‘jam tomorrow’ – and all the time, behind our backs and secretly, their actions are destructive and hurtful and often the exact reverse of the wonderful things they talk about. Words are all very well but ‘by their deeds shall ye know them’. But sometimes the words people use reveal more about what they think and believe than they realise. All of which has made me return to an excellent and entertaining novel.
It is called ‘Various Pets Alive and Dead’, is written by Marina Lewycha and, like all her books, is warm, quirky, perceptive and wonderfully funny. This one deals with a grown up family who were brought up in a commune which, according to them, was all high ideals and endless lentils, and are now earning their living in a variety of ways. Oolie-Anna, the youngest who has Down’s Syndrome, works in a factory and is often wildly and unintentionally funny; Clara her big sister is as socially aware and responsible as her parents and works in a run-down Primary School in a very poor district; big brother Serge, on the other hand, is aiming to be one of the moneyed elite and works in the City in a finance house called FATCA gambling with figures on the screen in front of him. He already has £1.21 million in a bank account and wants more. His boss, who is nicknamed Chicken, makes no secret of his philosophy. He spends a lot of his time in Downing Street. ‘trying to firm up the Government’s commitment to the role of the financial sector in the national economy’ and reminding the politicians ‘that what’s good for the banks is good for Britain.’ Sound familiar?
He has open contempt for anyone who works but doesn’t make money for the financial sector. ‘They’re not productive,’ he says. By which he means, ‘Nobody’s making money out of them. Think – if it was all in the private sector. Schools. Universities, Prisons. Hospitals, Sheltered Housing. Residential homes. Think of the business opportunities.’ Sound familiar? This is the world we are all living in.
But of course it isn’t just millionaires and politicians who say one thing and do another. Lesser mortals do it too. We have a horrible example of it in Felpham. But to begin at the beginning.
Earlier this week Facebook reminded me that this Saturday is the second anniversary of a talk I gave in the Museum at Worthing. It was part of a ‘Blake evening’ and I was telling the story of Blake’s three years in Felpham and his trial for sedition. The audience was rather small but a few of them had come specifically to hear about Blake in Felpham, which was gratifying. The rest were self-styled poets who had come to read their poetry to one another, and a team of actors who had come to give a read-through of a new play about Blake’s death. The organiser thought very highly of this play because it had been given the seal of approval by the Chairman of the Blake Society, no less. I wondered how the playwright was going to make a drama out of a death that was so peaceful and joyous. Our Blake welcomed his death and died singing hymns because he believed he would ‘soon see Jesus’.
But sadly the playwright’s Blake was a very different character. He spent his time ranting about a ‘Tic’ that was plaguing him. Hmm! And Kate, who in real life was a gentle quiet woman, was portrayed as a 21st Century harridan, screaming and arguing with anyone who came her way. Hmm! And as if that weren’t bad enough, there were anachronistic mistakes at every turn. The worst was when a character who was apparently ‘an amalgam of John Linnard and William Hayley’ burst onto the death scene, screaming at Kate. ‘He’s ill. You must get a doctor. He needs a blood transfusion.’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Hayley died seven years before Blake; poor people couldn’t afford to call a doctor until 1948; and blood transfusions didn’t come in until WW2. Treble Hmmm!
And who was the man who gave this appalling play his seal of approval? You may well ask. He certainly didn’t know much about Blake whoever he was. Well, it was none other than Tim Heath, the man who now ‘owns’ Blake’s cottage and spends his time and energy feeding pipe-dreams to the local press about how he’s going to erect a wonderful, million pound building in the garden of the cottage where he will encourage and foster ‘thousands of geniuses’. And the local papers lap it up while the cottage falls further and further into decay. His message is simple and familiar. ‘Pay no attention to what I’m doing – or in his case not doing – just listen to what I’m saying.’
What a world we live in!