When they ask how I died, tell them: Still Angry
“The personal, as everyone is so fucking fond of saying, is political. So, if some idiot politician, some power player, tries to execute policies that harm you or those you care about, TAKE IT PERSONALLY. Get angry. The machinery of justice will not serve you here – it is slow and cold, and it is theirs, hardware and software. Only the little people suffer at the hands of justice; the creatures of power slide out from under with a wink and a grin. If you want justice, you will have to claw it from them. Make it PERSONAL. Do as much damage as you can. GET YOUR MESSAGE ACROSS. That way, you stand a far better chance of being taken seriously next time. Of being considered dangerous. And make no mistake about this: being taken seriously, being considered dangerous marks the difference, the ONLY difference in their eyes, between players and little people. Players they will make deals with. Little people they liquidate. And time and again they cream your liquidation, your displacement, your torture and brutal execution with the ultimate insult that it’s just business, it’s politics, it’s the way of the world, it’s a tough life and that IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL. Well, fuck them. Make it personal”
“Things i should have learnt by now”
(From “Woken Furies” by Richard Morgan)
There was glee in my mother’s eyes when she told me that the Champagne was chilling nicely in the fridge. Her and my father had bought it four years ago and kept it close at hand. I have no idea whether Champagne ages that well – especially not the sort of fizzy wine they or I would purchase, which at best would probably be Cava or Prosecco. But I don’t think that really mattered to them, it wasn’t about spending the money, but rather marking the occasion.
Anyone who follows the news would no doubt guess the reason for the Champagne chilling. Those of a prissy or judgemental bent would already have marked my parents down as bitter, hate-filled old-school left-wingers.
At least part of the reason why they put the fizz in the fridge is, of course, because they want to mark down the legacy of Thatcher as inviolable. To feel glee at her demise is to, of course, challenge that. Thus, we can quickly dismiss the judgements of the Toby Youngs of the world. To them, the death of Mrs Thatcher is as much an opportunity for political point-scoring as it is to my parents. But there remains the deeper, more troubling question, which is, of course, why my parents are celebrating the death of an elderly lady with dementia.
I speak not out of turn using my parents as an example here. They remain both unashamed and defiant in their feelings.
I’ll not prettify those feelings – which, in my eyes, would be a real betrayal, a betrayal of the emotions they hold, which are most definitely, well, ugly.
Ugly to our nicey-nicey sensibilities. Certainly a little too much raw meat for my taste.
How did this happen? My parents are not evil people in the slightest. They aren’t hate-filled in the slightest. If anything, they are the diametrical opposite of evil. They are remarkably humane and forward-thinking people, and I remain fiercely proud of them.
They were anti-racist and anti-homophobic when to be so in a working class community in the Welsh valleys marked you out as the odd exception rather than what is now, happily, becoming more and more the norm. They have no chips on their shoulder. They are not particularly grudgeful or vengeful individuals, no more than any human being is.
In her late working life, my mother was a home carer, and spent her days providing personal care to the elderly and disabled, a role she fulfilled with compassion, humanity and efficiency. On her retirement from the post, she remained close to a number of the elderly women she tended. And it was mostly women; the elderly in need of homecare in a former industrial community inevitably end up being female, their husbands stricken down years before by illnesses brought on by hewing the coal face.
Both my mother and my father still helping these women out with domestic tasks such as chopping wood for their fire or shopping. My parents brought up their children to be caring, kind, hardworking and tolerant. To be open to new ideas and new horizons, to be able to learn and grow.
If you wanted to paint a picture of an ideal working class mam and dad, I’m pretty damn sure that picture would resemble my parents well enough that you could pick them out of a line-up.
So there they are. Bloody lovely people. Bloody lovely people that I would pass up an eternity of Toby Young buying me drinks for five minutes of talking about the weather with. Bloody lovely people….celebrating the death of an elected politician.
Now, it would be both patronising and wrong to want to “defend” this urge of theirs. And you know what? I’m not going to. I understand it. I don’t share it, but I understand far more than those carping on about the “sick” behaviour of people like them do. And those who do make “defences” rattle out a good number of reasons, but there’s always something, I feel, a little lacking to them. So, here, I’m going to try and explain a little.
And there’s only one way to explain their attitude. From the class I am from, from the place I am from, from the family I am from, there can be no other point of departure from the consensus but 1984, and the Miner’s Strike. Both left and right admit it was a titanic struggle. Both left and right admit that it left bitterness on all sides. Both left and right admit, on whatever level, that the end result was economically devastating for certain regions and crippled the power of the proletariat, if that hoary old word holds any meaning in our new metrosexual i-padded cells.
What’s not often discussed, however, is the emotional impact. Oh, I know occasionally you’ll get someone going on about how economic devastation lead to massive increases in heroin use in former mining communities, and there are pretty good reasons for making some sort of tentative causal link there. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about, well…
I’m talking about PTSD.
You may think my use of that ludicrous. Your prerogative. But follow my logic train to the end, and see whether it sounds as ludicrous.
See my parents in their pomp. My father, a working class male full of the earned pride that manual labour used to bring in this country. Part of a community, a brotherhood, and more than that, one of the aristocracy of labour. No elitism is intended, no other manual profession garnered the same respect from left and right alike, from MacMillan to Bevan, they all knew that these were hard men, who did a filthy, dangerous and often degrading job and did it well, and showed true solidarity doing so – your life often depended upon your workmates not fucking up or slacking off.
See my mother, industrious, intelligent but not educated, compassionate, proud. Imagine the confidence of that couple, both in their early 30s, full of youth and life and vigour, political and opinionated, but not activists. Engaged, but not obsessed.
And then watch them fight a war against the massed forces of the state for a year. A war in which they were demonised endlessly by the media, the public, the police and ultimately, her in number 10. A war in which the forces of law and order, forces we’d always been brought up to respect, colluded against us. A war full of shady dealings from right-wing organisations funding and agitating (and, suffice to say, I’m representing their side here. I’m sure one could find manifold examples of dubiousness on both sides of this war).
I’m not even beginning to defend whether the war was worth fighting, whether it was justified or whether they were wisely led (the Quisling Electricians Union leader Eric Hammond, a folk devil in our house for years after, described them as “lions led by donkeys”, echoing Alan Clark on WW1 soldiery, and whilst my opinion of Eric is obvious from the prefacing epiphet I chose for him, there’s no doubt that in that statement, if nothing else, he had the nub of the situation). I’m just arguing that *they* thought they were right. They were fighting for their communities, their jobs, their families, their very way of being.
And, no doubt, that way of being would have gone eventually. And, no doubt, it was in many ways a harsh and brutal way of being.
But think on that again for a second – you and your community against the state, for a whole year, and your only aim, in your eyes, preservation of your way of life. In the course of that battle, there would be violence. There would be harassment. There would be misrepresentation and lies. My mother wrote a poem during the strike, I can’t remember most of it, a piece of doggerel maybe, but couched in a mordant irony, she listed all the accusations slung at her husband by the press. A fascist would wake the children up for school, a bully-boy would walk them there, a thug would do the shopping, a communist would share her bed.
And they – we – lost. And we can talk about the economic devastation that loss wrought for the next 29 years.
But until we grasp the emotional devastation, the smashing of lives and families, relationships, self-image and self-worth, then we ignore the true human cost of the strike.
Yes, I say PTSD. A year-long trauma, maybe partially self-inflicted. Maybe “economically” justified (although one does tend to find with economics that, you picks your ideology, and lo, you can find a theory to “justify” any actions in that ideology). A year of trauma, followed by defeat. It surprises me, in this softer era, that we don’t bring that to the table more, that we don’t discuss the emotional devastation more.
If a soldier coming back from 6 months in a foreign field can carry the emotional scars and need extensive help and therapy, then why not the veterans of 1984? Are they not allowed to carry some bitterness? Are they not allowed to have some scars? Are they not allowed to look back at a year of struggle, violence, anger, betrayal, viciousness and vindictiveness and still carry the grudge?
So, you know what? I’m not joining in any street parties for the death of an old lady. Not how I feel, not who I am. But you want to tell me how sick and twisted my parents are for their urge to toast her demise, and I’ll tell you to fuck off.
Politely, admittedly, and with caveats. But still.