This is a post of two halves – a broken post.
I have a whole pile of scraps. Drafts. Posts that I began but have never finished yet had something about them that persuaded me hold on to them. Not abandon them completely.
This morning I re-read a piece that I started writing back in May. You will see where it begins. In some ways it is Time-bound. Linked to a specific moment. But it also seemed to relate to what was on my mind this morning so I have included and incorporated it. Hopefully, it will be born and have family. Here we go:
Monday was the First of May. May 1st. May Day.
In the UK, it’s a Bank Holiday.
There’s a lot of language in those short statements. Much meaning in a few simple words. A depth of association that is worth investigation.
For me, growing up, May Day was a welcome extra holiday. A bonus day off school. It was a day that had a specific colour and that colour was RED. Red because it was Labour, it was the unions, it was for the workers. It was the one explicitly political holiday of the year. There were marches. A bit of agitation. A show of strength in unity by the working classes who would march proudly down high streets beneath union banners to honour the battles fought by working class people to secure fundamental rights. Certainly, as a child growing up in the Midlands in the 1970s, I was aware of that weight of history. And it’s not like I was out there looking for it. Or that my parents were big union supporters. That awareness was just part of the cultural baggage with which I grew up. It was just Common Knowledge. Everybody had a sense of it.
I doubt that my own son knows much about the political history of May Day. It has quietly been erased. Faded away. It has not been loudly opposed or violently oppressed. It has simply been ignored. And, starved of attention, it has rolled over and died. This opportunity for the working classes to define themselves in terms of the victories they have won has been effectively shut down. And, with it, a story has been closed. A particular way of reading our past and our relationship to it has been ended. It was a story that was still alive when I was growing up. It was appealing to a young boy because it had a strong narrative, clear heroes and villains, an obvious morality. There was, on one side, the rulers, the bosses. They were the baddies. They were bad because they held power and they misused it. They misused it because they were selfish and wanted primarily to line their own pockets with gold. They were bad because they were arrogant and superior. They believed that they were somehow inherently better than the workers, had a divine right to power and deserved their wealth. On the opposing side were the workers. They were good because they were not selfish. They fought to distribute the wealth and power equally between everyone. They believed that everyone was born equal and had a right to be treated well. They were kind and selfless. And the narrative was clear: the bosses were fighting to retain power. They were cruel, ruthless and deceitful and would do anything to stay in control. The workers were fighting for an equal share of the power. For the right to have control over their own lives. For justice. They were noble, honest and steadfast. They knew that the fight would not be easy and that great sacrifices would have to be made but, in the end, they would be victorious because they were morally right: all people had an equal right to a decent life and power and wealth should not be held by the few. That is the story I grew up hearing. It is, I guess, the underlying narrative that has informed my entire life. It is the basis of all the other stories I hold dear. It used to be a public narrative. Yet, it has been effectively removed from the public sphere. It no longer seems to be given public exposure as a possible story to make sense of our lives. How has this come about?
There have been other narratives that have changed over time. For me, as a child in Primary school, the dominant story about the history of our island was one of conquest. The important moments in our shared past were when we were invaded and conquered. First it was the Romans. They brought civilisation, organisation and sanitation. Before that we were a rough bunch of warring tribes: chaotic, with no culture of their own worth saving, always fighting amongst themselves, still shitting in the woods. It was a good job that the Romans came along with their straight roads and well disciplined armies to sort us all out. I learned about how the Romans dressed, how they organised their armies, the weapons and battle dress of their soldiers. I learned about the gods the Romans worshipped, how they converted to Christianity and brought that religion to Britain. The story I initially grew up with was that the Romans were a civilising force, to be admired, a good thing.
But, than, a little later, chinks began to appear. Details came to light that didn’t quite fit with the dominant narrative. That pointed towards a different story. As a child, I loved reading. I read a lot. Spent many hours in my local library seeking out stories that fired my imagination. I particularly liked reading the old myths and legends. I knew all about the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the Norse gods. My favourites were the Norse gods. They were dark and mysterious. The was a special flavour about them. I was fascinated by the doomed fatalism of so many of the stories. Here were gods who were very human – they failed, made mistakes, died. Here were heroes who knew they were going to be beaten, going to die but were prepared to fight anyway – because it was the right thing to do. This was very appealing to me. I could relate to the sensibility behind these stories. I found something in the old Norse myths that seemed to be missing from the dominant culture that surrounded me. I wasn’t quite sure what it was but I felt its draw. So, I read on, trying to find out more. I read books by Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff. Here I found reference to other stories – stories of the Celtic peoples – the people who had lived in Britain before the Romans came. And, within these stories, were hints that the pre-Roman inhabitants of these isles were not just war-like savages painted in blue woad sacrificing virgins on stone altars, but fully rounded people with a sophisticated culture of their own, a complex history of their own, a nuanced civilisation of their own. But why was there no attention paid to their story in my History books at school? Why did I know more about the Roman gods than the gods that were there before them?Where had that story gone?
And so began a long process of seeking out the missing stories of my homeland. A process that has taken me in to the darker corners of libraries and bookshops. Taken me out to stand atop hill forts, to stand before standing stones, to crawl into Iron Age burial chambers. Led me to sit around a fire and listen to stories which are more than just entertainment. Stories that are magical, that hold deeper truths. Deeper than those told to me at school. More resonant, for me, than those told to me at church. And eventually I found a different story – one to over arch the rest. This is the story of a rich, indigenous and ancient British culture. A complex culture – a warrior culture that was essentially peaceful. A highly creative culture that valued art and beauty. A culture that had its own religious beliefs and practices – its own way of understanding the natural world and our place within it. An understanding that was suppressed by the invading Romans and ruthlessly wiped out by the Christianity they imposed. It is a story of an indigenous culture destroyed by colonisation. A story of brutal domination and the conscious disinheritance of a people from their land, history and religion. It is the same story as that of the native people of North America and Australia. It carries the same great weight of loss and sadness.
I wrote that back in May. Before Theresa May (ironic!) called the snap election that she said she wouldn’t call and the world turned upside down. Well, maybe not the World, but certainly recent events in the UK have not been business as usual. Nobody expected what happened in the UK General Election. It was meant to be a Tory landslide. An overwhelming victory for the Conservatives which would provide Theresa May with the mandate to ruthlessly pursue a hard Brexit and continuing, deeper austerity. It seemed inevitable. The only possible story. The mainstream Media in the UK now is totally controlled by the Right. The general public is fed a constant stream of lies and misinformation. It is insidious. It has become Reality for most people. Because, unless you are inclined to put in a major and sustained effort to seek out Alternative Narratives, it is the Only Story that is available. Times Are Hard. Cuts To Public Services Are Necessary. We Are All In This Together. The NHS Is An Inefficient Luxury. Immigration Is A Problem. We Need To Have Strong Defence. Privitisation Brings Greater Efficiency. It’s The Economy, Stupid. The Bottom Line. Make Britain Great Again. There Is No Alternative. Brexit Means Brexit. No Alternative. THIS IS HOW IT IS. IT IS JUST COMMON SENSE.
It all seemed hopeless. OK, you and a few friends might see things differently, but we were under the impression that we were just existing in a little, unrealistic bubble. To the vast majority of the population we were just left wing lunatics, hopeless dreamers or, if we took any sort of action, made any form of protest, we were dangerous anarchists. We had been on numerous marches – huge events, mass mobilisations of public outrage – against cuts to Public Services, against various Wars, against Fox Hunting, against Fracking- only to see them reported in the News, if at all, as a side-line worthy of only a few seconds of air-time. We saw peaceful mass protests mis-reported as dangerous riots. We saw policing tactics designed to provoke a violent reaction so that the focus of reporting could be on the violence rather than the reasons for the protest in the first place. But, worse than that, was seeing massive protests simply unreported. Ignored. Not worthy of consideration.
In this way, Hope was denied the air of exposure. And slowly, quietly, Hope was strangled and died. Until we reached a situation where feeling without Hope of Change was normal. A situation where the very idea of Change seemed ludicrous. Where anyone demanding Change was deemed to be dangerously insane.
That is a terrible place to be.
But, then, unexpectedly, Hope returned. And we should be eternally grateful to Jeremy Corbyn for being the figurehead for Hope’s return. For sure, he was not alone. He had a strong team behind him and a network of Resistance just waiting for a spark to ignite it. But he, personally, has had to endure a ongoing barrage of lies and slander, insults and false accusations, mis-reporting and abuse that should be to the eternal shame of our national press. I don’t read newspapers any more. I don’t listen to the BBC. Why bother? You won’t find the Truth there. Instead I read books. I seek out on-line journals. I research the issues I want to know more about. I ignore the News. Because the News is only what someone has selected for you. Someone has decided that these events are important and worth your consideration whilst others are not. Do you know who that Someone is? Do you trust them? Are you certain that they are not carefully selecting what events are “The News” in order to tell you a particular story? To construct a version of Reality which it suits them that you Believe it to be The Truth. Like the reasons we celebrate May Day or the picture we have of the Ancient Britons.
I am a story teller. I know that there are many different stories and many ways to tell them. I know that stories have tremendous power. I know that they must be treated with respect. I know that my audience must be respected also. When I am an audience I always ask myself “Is this story being told with respect? Am I being treated with respect?” If I am not, I walk away. Find another story. A different teller. Find a story that gives you Hope.
Jeremy Corbyn dared to stand up and tell a different story. To present a Manifesto which said, “Hey, it doesn’t have to be this way. Austerity is not the only approach available. Things could be different. Things could change.”
The Media said he was an idiot, a traitor, a terrorist sympathiser, untrustworthy, unpatriotic, scruffy, dangerous …….. and on and on and on………. they threw it all at him.
But he just smiled and carried on. Sticking to his message. Telling His Story.
And, wonderfully, amazingly people responded. Went to listen to him speak. Came back fired with enthusiasm. With Hope.
And they voted. And he didn’t win. The Tories remain in Government. Just. For now.
But he won. Most certainly, he won. Because he changed The Story. Suddenly, there is more than one narrative. Suddenly there is Hope. And everything has changed. Anything is possible. The flame has been lit. The Media will now relentlessly try to extinguish that flame. To suffocate Hope. Ask yourself Why? In whose interest do they kill Hope? Yours? But remain Hopeful because that flame, once lit, is difficult to extinguish, hard to control. It has a tendency to spread. Wild Fire.
Fan the flames.