The Inspirational Activist: DeRay Mckesson

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Edinburgh International Book Festival
11th August 2019


DeRay Mckesson is admired by people the world over for drawing attention to the alarming spate of killings of Black people by police in the U.S. Killings that have often been catalysed by minor misdemeanours or unwarranted suspicions, like those of Tamir Rice, a baby-faced 12 year old boy playing with a toy gun in a park. Mckesson came to international attention when he joined the 400 day-long protests by activists in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown at the hands of the police in 2014. He gave up his career in education to dedicate his time to speaking out about racially-disproportionate police brutality and incarceration rates in the U.S. Since the release of his book in 2018, On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope, he’s had a little respite from the three long years of speaking about the protests and defending the need for them. He admitted that writing the book was still a tough, exhausting process, especially when his editor covered his first draft in red ink. One essay that was left out of the book was about the rituals that developed around the relentless death of citizens at the hands of the police, particularly the heightened emotions experienced at the finality of closing an open casket. Suicides among Black youth in America are rampant, and the tragic reality of closing a child-size casket on a 7th grader who had hanged himself cut Mckesson to pieces. Change since the Ferguson protests is seen in the conversations that can now be had around the disproportionate number of deaths of Black people at the hands of American police, but the ugly truth is that the rate of police killings has actually increased since the protests. Yet, Mckesson suggests that the Black Lives Matter movement will likely follow the trend of the more general Civil Rights protests of the 1960s that saw a ten-year delay before changes were written into policy and law. DeRay is holding a dream; and that is to get to a point where we naturally feel safe in the presence of the police. Is that not their job? To keep us safe?

Language is important, because conceptual change allows us to imagine a different future. Yet a piece of the puzzle is taking the energy of the streets into the corridors of power, which is why Mckesson made a last-minute run for local office in Baltimore in 2016. He explains in detail how he was elaborately and thoroughly hacked, outed on Wiki leaks, and arrested in Baton Rouge. Twitter banned the man who was attempting to raise money online to organise his assassination. No wonder he’s tired. He warns us to remember that conversations can be read on Twitter without needing an account. Since that time, his influence has grown to the extent where he has been named the ‘celebrity activist’, that, he said with a laugh, he would rather replace with ‘an activist with a platform’. He makes another distinction to a majority white audience; the ideal of being a white ‘accomplice’ to Black struggle rather than the disputed ‘ally’, because being an accomplice demands proximity, action and sacrifice to do as much as they are capable of doing. The big question to white people is, “What are you willing to risk so that people can experience freedom from racism?”

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Due to her recent passing, the memory of Toni Morrison and her work has been invoked several times during the first couple of days of the Book Festival, showing what a huge influence she has been on Black and other people across the world. Ms Morrison famously spoke of racism as a distraction, and Mckesson describes racism as also being a deception. White privilege is often denied because whiteness itself is insidious. He distinguishes between whiteness and white people, particularly because a white person can either accept or choose to disrupt those systems that perpetuate white supremacy. He borrows author Ibram X. Kendi’s conceptualisation of whiteness as a ‘power construct’ rather than ‘social construct’. It’s likely that if more people understood the historical construction of the abstract concept of ‘whiteness’ by scholars in European universities several centuries ago, conveniently justifying the development of racialized chattel slavery, it would be easier to dismantle the enduring idea of race. Intersectionality is key in any social justice movement, as Mckesson discussed while chairing Kendi’s event the previous day. Black Lives Matter was started by Garza, Cullors and Tometi, three Black women, two of them Queer, who prioritised intersectional justice based on the work of earlier Black Queer activists, positing BLM as a wide-ranging liberation movement. Law professor and activist Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the concept of ‘intersectionality’ close to 30 years ago, uses the platform #SayHerName to remind us that Black women are also disproportionately targeted by the police, and often sexually assaulted by police and in the prison system itself.

The idea that a ‘post-racial society’ was ushered in with the Obama presidency was rash at the time; and unsurprisingly since proven to be a fallacy. Obama came up short when it came to addressing policy change, but this is often attributed to the entrenched power structures surrounding an American president. It was interesting to hear Mckesson’s account of the civil rights leaders who spared Obama the truth in meetings, some claiming that a ‘revolution of love’ is all that was needed. Mckesson reminds us that a third of all people killed by a stranger in the US are killed by a police officer, and more are people arrested for weed-related offences than for all violent crimes combined. There is much work to be done, and it can’t fall solely on the shoulders of Black people.  The topic of self or group care always comes up in Black activist circles, as the rigours of direct activism takes a toll on mental health. He suggested, only half-jokingly, that after the trauma of Ferguson, donations should have gone towards therapy sessions for all the activists. He makes sure to spend time with loved ones and children to stay balanced, for joy guards against burnout and forms part of the resistance. He encouraged us to interrogate our individual psychological issues in order to do this demanding work to the best of our ability, and that we can all start, just like many big movements started, with a conversation at our kitchen table. In the meantime, check out the work being done across the US, including the police reform initiative that Mckesson is part of, Campaign Zero. Luckily, so far, our police are rarely armed, but seeing as Scotland has its own issues with racist attacks, murders and police brutality (see the unresolved Sheku Bayoh case) sometimes it’s helpful to look across the pond for inspiration.

Lisa Williams

Darren McGarvey AKA Loki: Scotland Today

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The Stand New Town Theatre

Aug 12-25 (16.50)


Loki McGarvey is an artist that has weathered more than his fair share of hard knocks, from alcohol addiction and crime, Loki has emerged from the ranks of Glasgow’s underclass to become the voice of the beaten generation. Initially through his power as a wordsmith, recanting truthful poetry inspired by the challenges faced by people that have been failed by the machine, making a name for himself as a vocal activist to become one of Scotland’s national treasures. Both in literary circles and as a performance rapper. Being at the forefront of Glasgow’s bustling music scene along with Mark McGhee of The Girobabies and Colonel Mustard and Dijon Five. Between them they have amassed an increasingly large following of lovely people. Why? Because they have the balls to speak the truth and have the talent to carry it. Voices of solution to a very real problem. The secret of that success is Grace, good karma and above all, making an effort to be part of the solution. Evolving his skill as a writer, his first published book, Poverty Safari, won the Orwell Literary Prize launching him to international acclaim. A true hero of our times that speaks common sense, the thoughts of decent people everywhere.

A comedy club is a strange place in which to house this amazing talent, because the content of which flows with ease and grace from the mouth of Loki, is far from funny. Rather an exploration of what is truly sad and unjust in not so Great Britain at the moment. With the gap between rich and poor widening to levels not seen since the Second World War and the disadvantaged becoming even more disadvantaged as a result.

Today was not so much a performance but a sermon on the pitfalls of suddenly hitting the big time and having the readies that go with it. Comparative wealth. At this time of year Edinburgh doesn’t have a social conscience.The problems get swept under the carpet as wealthy tourists flock to the capital. to experience the original and best performance art festival in the world. So it was no surprise to find the theatre filled with people on the same wavelength (not a comedy crowd), listening with depth to every word that came out of Loki’s mouth. Its an uncomfortable truth that resonates with the people who are suffering it also. And in Austerity Britain that is just about everyone that isnae a Tory. Everyone in the audience could relate to Loki because Loki speaks of humanity and that is his appeal. A graceful voice of truth. A very gifted man indeed.

Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert

five-stars

 

An Interview with Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin

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On the temporal bridge between comedy & spoken-word stands Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin


Hello Bróccán, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hello The Mumble. Geographically speaking, I am from the North-East’s premier seaside getaway spot, Hartlepool and I am currently living in the North-East’s premier seaside getaway spot, Hartlepool.

When did you realise you were a performer?
Probably when I was about 8 years old and experienced my first theatrical injustice after being robbed of the part of Buttons. I swore to come out on top and went on to appear in not one, not ten, but SIX different pantomime later in life.

Can you tell us about the Durham Revue & your role with them?
Yeah, the Revue is Durham University’s main sketch comedy troupe. I was a writer and performer with them which was a whole load of fun. We got to perform all over the country in theatres that were far too large and nice and we had a full run at Underbelly for Edinburgh Fringe. Laugh Actually, the show we took up, won the Derek Award for Best Sketch Comedy show as well which was a treat and a half.

What is your ideal Sunday afternoon?
Swimming!

You’re bringing a show to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
Yeah it’s my debut solo show and it’s called “Don’t Bother”. It’s a unique mix of spoken word and stand-up comedy. It’s mainly surrealist comedy poetry and observations but also includes a bizarre narrative that comments on the direction that fringe shows seem to be heading in and what the pitfalls of that might be.

So its comedy & spoken word, where do you place the demarcation line?
It’s kind of hard to say because the way I write is that the spoken word pieces are an extension of the joke. I pretty much write a stand up segment in which the poetry serves as a punchline. It’s similar to how someone like Tim Minchin uses music, but in place of songs there’s poems.

Where, when & why did you conceive Don’t Bother?
I wrote the show last June after I was offered an hour long slot at a fringe festival in Nottingham. I was looking at all my content and thinking of a way that I could retroactively fit a narrative or superfluous overriding theme to the things I’d written in order to justify its own existence. But then I realised that that was pretty dumb and that I shouldn’t bother. Instead I decided to write a show that embraced the fact that it was all varied material, whilst also highlighting the absurdity of feeling the need to tie everything seamlessly together.

From which inspirations have you drawn for your show?
I’m a big fan of Stewart Lee, Tim Key and Bo Burnham and I think there’s elements of each of them that I really like and subconsciously include into my writing.

You won Best Spoken Word Show at this year’s Sabateur Awards, how did that make you feel?
I was genuinely very, very surprised. It’s a national award and I was up against some big names so the fact that enough people had enjoyed the show for it to get nominated was great. It was something else to actually win.

What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage?
Thirteen Hail Mary’s and a quick recount of the intense B-boy choreography that opens the show.

You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
It’s a 5-star, award winning hour of comedy that blends spoken word and stand-up in a unique way. And for the teenage audience members, I floss at the beginning!


Don’t Bother

Underbelly, Bristo Square,

July 31-Aug 26 (12:10)

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The Poetry of Louise Connell

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Music & poetry have always been easy bedfellows, teasing each other with magic to create something wholly cosmic, wholly beautiful. Singers like Bob Dylan & Jim Morrison were choral bards whose words meant as much as the melody – to hypnotise with the tune, to penetrate the soul with the vision. Alas, in recent years, across the music scene, the lyrics of songs have been slowly descending into a sewer of indifference, with A&R folk more interested in social media stats than talent. How sparklingly wonderful is the appearance, then, of a young singer-songwriter who really cares about what she is singing.

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Louise & her band in Edinburgh

A few weeks ago I quite randomly found myself in the Voodoo Rooms one Tuesday evening listening to a young lady & her band. The lady has a name, Louise Connell, a quite bonnie & thickly-accented lassie from Airdrie. A shy performer, Louise has an ethereal voice which soothes the listener’s receptability, fooling us into mentally relaxing as she tosses her songs of spinning shuriken into our psyche. Louise, you see, is a poet. It took me a while to realise – the aforementioned thick accent is difficult to penetrate sometimes – but as the gig went on, & the words & phrases Louise chooses became steadily more transparent, I began to screw down, transfixed, into my seat, resting chin betwyx finger & thumb. It was as if the spirit of John Keats had manifested itself into this gentle & honey-tongued goddess from the Central Belt; but with an edge, for Keats could never have sung the opening lyrics of Connell’s self-penned Maria;

The wine glass slithers down the wall
The cooker’s on but the room is cold
Maria, where’s the girl who swallows lies,
And coughs them up as smiles?

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—-

Louise has just released an album, a collection of three EPs called Squall Echo Rale. The songs vary in style & entertainment, but it is in the lyrics that I have found the most pleasure. Louise writes from the other side, presenting us with the flawless dichotomy of silken-sheeted songcraft & spine-raking wordplay. The album consists of 18 set-piece songs, the second of which, Rope, reveals the true genius of Connell’s craft. Less song, more an abstract play, it begins with an impressive cynghanedd-laden couplet which reads, ‘I’m forging quite a career in suppression / Whether passive agression or a spineless silence.’ Let us also examine the opening to the fourth song, Ilo, a love paean delivered with calm lucidity, a majestic capsule of poetic insight & phraseology.

———

Spending my day’s trying to claim
No one was seeing any of me
Like I was total, embryonic potential
And zero kinesis
I’d feel my hand at the switch
With my mouth forming, “I lo…”

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Wandering through the rest of the lyrics for Squall Echo Rale, we have several songs of introspective romance-odes – there seems to be a broken relationship in the mix somewhere. A little of Baudelaire’s desperate Paris pops up from time to time; in Fruit, for example, we learn ‘There’s no garden, There’s no orchard, Fruit is trampled,’ while No Visitors contains the cooly observed, ‘She may be sunken treasure but no one’s ever / been holding their breath.‘ In Crossed the Line, my favorite tune on the album, we see Connell complying with the convention of the sonnet-turn, or something quite akin to it at least. Compare the standard chorus with a one-off later version & observe how Connell digs deeper into her muse-cave.
—–

I could have been a genius
But I crushed the brains out of my skull
I could have been a lover
But soft love would make my skin crawl
I could have been a monster
But the screams would fester in my mind
I could have been a good friend
But I always crossed the line
I always crossed the line

And I could have been a genius
If you’d tested me in my native tongue
I could’ve loved you gently, if it ever seemed much fun
I could have been a monster;
sure, I could have the person for you
But friends was just another game
that I was meant to lose
Like life’s a game I’m bound to lose

In ‘Get to Know Me,’ Connell takes on the gratuitous role of a male suitor, who ‘didn’t realise her father was a man of your stature / you intimidate me, sir.’ I mean, who in the music world actually does that? We also have track 17, Viscous Fear, a moody masterpiece which contains this a capella chorus, sang enchantingly;
——-
A nursery rhyme for the other side
A microcosm of my life
Coats a hundred glass slides
I creied eyelashes with my tears
My viscous fear
An eyelash tear
My viscous tear
—-
Louise Connell is a shiny jewel on the UK music scene, one to restore faith in songwriting’s ability to constantly reinvent itself & also remain true to itself. She also possesses a keen ear for melody, which she infuses into her lyrics with the ease of a summer’s walk. I wonder whether Connell will one day separate the words from her music, but one expects the extrication to be too bloody, too painful. For now, let us see her craft as a composite whole; the music coaxes the words to life, & the words invigorate the music. To listen to Connell sing her songs is a highly reccommended & sublime joy.

Desert Poets of the 51st Highland Division

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On the 75th anniversary of the death of John Jarmain, let us celebrate the immortal voices of two of our most cerebally gritty War Poets


O send me great opponents! Day by day
The precious hours like vacant windows passed,
The petty vision & the soft delay.
These bring defeat & rust the sword we bear,
Diminish each bright purpose, till at last
All’s wasted, & the heart’s too dull to care.
John Jarmain

On the 26th of this month it shall be seventy-five years exactly since the death of Major John Jarmain, killed-in-action in Normandy during the Allied reconquista of France. The major was a poet, & his death took place at Ste Honorine in Chardonnerette, a commune celebrated before the war as the most beautiful in the Calvados. His second-in-command at the time, John Paul Kaestlin, described the shared loss of one of English poetry’s succinctly sublime stars, at the tender age of 33.

I was awakened at 5 in the morning by his batman in a state of obvious agitation. The major had been hurt; he thought seriously. They had left together at 4 o’clock in his jeep. All was perfectly quiet as they drove over the crest & down the long incline to Honorine; but, as luck would have it, on arrival at the village they found the tanks still moving out into position. The noise had attracted the Hun & a mortar concentration had come over as they reached & were held up at the cross-roads. Jarmain, walking, had dived for a slit-trench by the roadside. He never got there. I got down to Honorine as fast as I could make it. By now, however, it was fully light, & I had to walk most of the way. When I got there he had been dead for some time, & there had evidently been no hope. A piece of shrapnel had entered the base of the skull & he had died, while being evacuated, without regaining consciousness.

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Jarmain was buried in the 6th Airborne Cemetery at Ranville. He has been remembered since as a leader, a hero & also a poet of the purest calibre. He left the world a desperately slender collection, among which stand poems that should rank alongside those of Owen & Sassoon among those memorials from the front-line that present an unmisted eyeglass into what it was like to actually fight in those terrible two World Wars of the early 20th Century. For the Great War Poets, especially after 1917, war poetry was all about recording the awful bloodshed & senseless loss of life; when death flew over a battlefield in a thousand & one ways to ravage & maim- the sonic boom of a shrapnel shell was one, turning insides to jelly just before they are pierced by hundred slices of jagged iron hurtling through them at 7000 miles an hour. Asphyxiation is another, gripped by the throat by the fierce hands of an enemy soldier whose bullets had all been spent, & whose bayonet had snapped. By Jarmain’s poetry, the blood and guts had been replaced by a pathos even more effective at touching the reader’s spirit.

Men prove their purpose, in the dangerous hour,
Their brief excelling brilliance is disclosed:
When threatened most the soul puts forth its flower
John Jarmain

Jarmain’s poetry flourished in the North African desert, distilling his experiences in the gaps between battle to the light of a doover’s candle. These magical lines were then sent back to England in numbered airmail letters to his wife. He served in the Eighth Army, with the 51st Highland Division, in whose ranks was a Scottish intelligence officer called Hamish Henderson. Jarmain would have attended Henderson’s lectures & briefings, but what they talked about together is unknown to us. We possess no Edward Trelawney here, jotting down the conversations of Byron & Shelley in Pisa, but what we do know is that Jarmain & Henderson are two supremely talented poets, whose works concerning the Desert War are priceless gems in the treasury of English poetry.

In John Jarmain’s work, the mud of the Somme is replaced by desert landscape. Jarmain becomes a connoisseur of sand as he studies its shapes and shifting colours under different climatic conditions
Professor Tim Kendall

John Jarmain

Poetically, one can really feel the Italian influence in the anima of Jarmain – he had visited the country many times & spoke near fluent Italian. He also produced one novel in his brief lifetime, Priddy Barrows, published by Collins in the year of his death. If novels are an oblique window into an author’s mind, then the following passage could tell us all we need to know about Jarmain’s personality.

I don’t think he could explain himself, in fact I’m sure he couldn’t. I don’t believe he knows himself why he does as he does. But I’m perfectly sure that once he’s said he’ll do a thing he’ll do it, & no one on earth will stop him. He’s queer.

The best way to appreciate Jarmain is through James Crowden’s 2012 book, Flowers in the Minefields, which places a delicious biograph alongside the poems, with the whole being perfectly embellished by photographs, commentaries & contemporaneous biographical material. The overall experience of the book is like finding the body of a dead soldier blown apart by a land-mine, & putting the pieces back together in the most human – well Frankenstinian – way possible.

Among Jarmain’s poetical offerings, twelve poems in particular stand out as a momentous record of the soldier’s experience. Henderson is different, he survived the war & lived a long life, but it is in his war poetry that his best writings lie. There are two streams flowing from Henderson’s craft; his ballads were on the lips of every soldiers’ singing, especially one composed for the Christmas celebrations in Cairo, 1942, a skit on the ruling house of Egypt & the corrupt British colonial administration that supported it. Sung to the national anthem of Egypt, the Allied soldiers picked it up with fervent enthusiasm, & despite the phraseology appearing wildly ridiculous (&unprintable) to we 21st centuryites, it retains for erudite posterity the vernacular of the time, of how the soldiers communicated with words. Another ballad was the indignantly brilliant ‘Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers,’ composed in response to a condescending remark by Lady Astor about troops on the Mediterranean front. In an insane speech, she had suggested that those soldiers who were bogged down by the mountain fighting in Italy were in some way avoiding the invasion of Normandy.

We’re the D-Day Dodgers, out in Italy –
Always on the vino, always on the spree.
8th Army scroungers and their tanks
We live in Rome – among the yanks.
We are the D-Day Dodgers, way out in Italy…

Naple and Cassino were taken in our stride,
We didn’t go to fight there – we went there for the ride.
Anzio and Sango were just names
We only went there to look for dames –
The artful D Day-Dodgers, way out in Italy

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Henderson’s ‘Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica,’ begun fragmentedly in Autumn 1942 & published in 1947, was his tribute to the war in North Africa. Composed in gluts within such recollective moments as when pole-axed by dysentery, the Eelgies are full of compassion for the victimisation of ordinary soldiers, constantly bubbling with an unvisceral, yet emotional truth. When the Elegies are lain beside Jarmain’s poetry, the comblended whole forms a concise reflection of what it was truly like to fight in the desert, a colourful diaspora of experiences to colour in the gaps on those grainy black & white cinereels from the 1940s. By cherry-picking the best of these – sometimes in passages, sometimes whole poems – & laying them by Jarmain’s sublime dozen, we may create the most valuable of poetical testaments to war, composed by the last of those to experience men murdering men on an industrial scale.

I’ve walked this brazen clanging path
In flesh’s brittle arrogance
To chance the simple hazard, death,
Regretting only this, my rash
Ambitious wish in verse to write
A true & valued testament.
Hamish Henderson

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Among Henderson’s Elegies, his 7th, Seven Good Germans discusses the backgrounds of enemy soldiers, those ‘seven poor bastards,‘ buried in the desert. The title bounces with deepest irony off the shadowy barrack-proverb, ‘the only good German is a dead one,‘ & Henderson yanks the humanity out of the indifferences of slaughter with such awesome poetry as;

The third had been a farm-hand in the March of Silesia
& had come to the desert as fresh fodder for machine guns
His dates are inscribed on the files, & on the cross-piece

Henderson had found it hard to get this particular poem published in the stuffy literary environs of the ‘Cairo Cage’ & the Salamander Oasis magazine. ‘My Elegy for the German Dead,’ he wrote in a letter to John Spiers, Spring 1943, ‘has been turned down by the Cairo censor – so I hear – from the editors of Orientations, because such morbid writings have a depressing effect on troops! What a laugh. However, it may be more expedient in every way to publish it after the war.’ That Henderson was kept out of the magazines shows how much his work really matters – for the truth suppressed is the greatest truth of all. Of his refusal to bend to the literary conventions of the day, Henderson scribbled a cutting paragraph is his personal copy of Orientations for May 1942.

When I gave them poetry that was neither Audenry nor Spenderish but coarse, sensual, numinous & song-like, acknowledging as influences Lorca, Heine, Clare, Dunbar & Burns & drawing much vigour from my association with Scots & Irish working class people, they squealed & scooted

Middle: General Sir Benard Montgomery – ‘Monty’

Towards the end of the summer of 1942, General Bernard Montgomery arrived in North Africa to take command of the Eighth Army. Rommel, the ‘Desert Fox,’ had been running rampant all over the desert, but would be finally stopped in late October by the British & Commonwealth troops in a furious, world-hinging battle named after an obscure train station 40 miles from Cairo – El Alamein. The 51st Highland Division fought in the battle, & it is in the terrifying white heat of its slaughter that the English poet Jarmain & the Scottish makar Henderson became, one would say, true poets of war.

There are many dead in the brutish desert,
who lie uneasy
among the scrub in this landscape of half-wit
stunted ill-will. For the dead land is insatiate
and necrophilous. The sand is blowing about still.
Many who for various reasons, or because
of mere unanswerable compulsion, came here
and fought among the clutching gravestones,
shivered and sweated,
cried out, suffered thirst, were stoically silent, cursed
the spittering machine-guns, were homesick for Europe
and fast embedded in quicksand of Africa
agonized and died.
And sleep now. Sleep here the sleep of dust.
Hamish Henderson

Jarmain was certainly ready to compose war poetry, for he had gone to school in Shrewsbury  Owenlike Wilfred twenty years before him. A deep part of Jarmain’s spirit was aware of both his ability & sensibility to match that genius-bard of the Great War. Time, it seemed, had randomly chosen the period of his poetry’s burgeoning in which to enact a new great slaughter. Time had called him to be a witness poet, whose moral responsibility to speak for the dead would transpose into words, with articulate beauty, the brutality & discordance of war. He – & Hamish Henderson of course – now had a dual duty; to fight for the country & to sing for its dead!

I have read the poems with real interest & mounting admiration
Professor Jon Stallworthy

“If I must die, forget these hands of mine / That touched your body into tiny flames,” were two staggeringly authentic lines composed by Jarmain to his second wife, Beryl, in early 1939. In them we have this poet’s encapsulation – he would wear the tradition (Brooke’s ‘If I should die, think only this of me’) of the art, while carving his own beauties in the rock.

Let us now look focus on one moment in the historiography of the two poets; at certain poems, passages of poems & the odd bit of prose which tell a small sliver of the story of that famous battle at Alamein, fought in furnace heat, which prevented the Nazi flag being draped over the pyramids.


INTERLUDE

Opening of an Offensive

(a) the waiting

Armour has foregathered, snuffling
through tourbillions of fine dust.
The crews don’t speak much. They’ve had
last brew-up before battle. The tawny
deadland lies in silence
not yet smashed by salvoes.
No sound reaches us
from the African constellations.
The low ridge is too quiet.
But no fear we’re sleeping,
no need to remind us
that the nervous fingers of the searchlights
are nearly meeting & time is flickering
& this I think in a few minutes
while the whole power crouches for the spring.
X-20 in thirty seconds. Then begin

(b) the barrage

Henderson describes the intense bombardment of the German lines which marked the opening of the battle, an epic moment in which minute details would embed themselves into his receptive psyche. For Henderson, the sight of two searchlights crossing in the skies at the start of the battle evoked the saltire of Saint Andrew, & gave the 51st an almost hallowed role in the battle. Henderson would actually be wounded, leaping into a slit trench to avoid a stuka attack, a momentary dashing which damaged ligaments & vertebrae to plague him through the rest of his life. Another Scottish poet was also wounded at Alamein, Sorley Maclean, blown 30 feet through the air by a landmine going off in his vicinity. He was wounded in the leg and broke several bones in his feet, but would survive to become one of Scotland’s greatest 20th century poets.

Whatever his desire of mishap,
his innocence or malignity,
he showed no pleasure in his death
below the Ruweisat Ridge.
Sorley MacLean

A bombadier during the battle, F.E. Hughes, submitted the following piece to a title called ‘Poems from the Desert,’ a World War II anthology of Eighth Army poems of which Monty introduced as compsed, ‘at the very time that the Desert Army was wholly engaged in hitting Rommel & all his forces “Right out of Africa for Six.”

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There’s a Devil in the dawn –
Horrific spawn of last night’s hideous moon,
That hung above the gun’s inferno
And smiled on men who died too soon.

There’s a Devil in the dawn –
See him fawn on those who served him well,
Who, blinded, deafened, breathed the cordite reek,
Fed the ravening guns, and swore that it was hell.

The Devil will demand his pay
In blood to-day; but those who pass in sunlight will
not see the Moon
Serenely light a desert hell for men who live
And smile on those who die too soon.

The next brief masterpiece of a poem, ‘At a War Grave,’ was composed by Jarmain towards the very end of the battle, after visiting the grave of his good friend Ebenezer Ell, slain by an 88 shell.

No grave is rich, the dust that herein lies
Beneath this white cross mixing with the sand
Was vital once, with skill of eye and hand
And speed of brain. These will not re-arise
These riches, nor will they be replaced;
They are lost and nothing now, and here is left
Only a worthless corpse of sense bereft,
Symbol of death, and sacrifice and waste.

An even greater friend of Ebenezer Lee was Harry Garrett, a sergeant in the 51st Highland Division, who experienced the horror of seeing Ebenezer blown to bits beside during the battle. This near-miss was one of many which earned him the nickname, ‘Lucky Harry,’ among whose charming, grounded verses we may read;

I knew that death is but a door.
I knew what we were fighting for:
Peace for the kids, our brothers freed,
A kinder world, a cleaner breed.

I’m but the son my mother bore,
A simple man, and nothing more.
But – God of strength and gentleness,
Be pleased to make me nothing less.

Help me, O God, when Death is near
To mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall – if fall I must –
My soul may triumph in the Dust.

Harry Garrett

From the general wastings of life through war, the emotional explosions of Jarmain & Henderson have flown from the desert into eternity. Among them stands Jarmain’s rightfully widely-anthologized poem, El Alamein. It was composed 5 months after the events described, during a different battle, the mauling at Mareth in Tunisia. In an essay contained in Crowden’s book, by a battery captian called Joe Dean, we can see the poem being composed;

I remember an evening during the battle of Mareth when by the light of his parrafin lamp he was struggling with a poem on the battle of Alamein

One expects that the shock of Alamein had subsided, leaving fresh memories encrusting in his creative storehouses. It would only take the sounds of battle to shake them from their beds.


El Alamein

There are flowers now, they say, at Alamein;
Yes, flowers in the minefields now.
So those that come to view that vacant scene,
Where death remains and agony has been
Will find the lilies grow –
Flowers, and nothing that we know.

So they rang the bells for us and Alamein,
Bells which we could not hear:
And to those that heard the bells what could it mean,
That name of loss and pride, El Alamein?
– Not the murk and harm of war,
But their hope, their own warm prayer.

It will become a staid historic name,
That crazy sea of sand!
Like Troy or Agincourt its single fame
Will be the garland for our brow, our claim,
On us a fleck of glory to the end:
And there our dead will keep their holy ground.

But this is not the place that we recall,
The crowded desert crossed with foaming tracks,
The one blotched building, lacking half a wall,
The grey-faced men, sand powdered over all;
The tanks, the guns, the trucks,
The black, dark-smoking wrecks.

So be it: none but us has known that land:
El Alamein will still be only ours
And those ten days of chaos in the sand.
Others will come who cannot understand,
Will halt beside the rusty minefield wires
And find there – flowers.


I shall leave this essay with one final poem, which blew anonymously into a slit trench at El Afhelia during a heavy bombardment. It was only a couple of weeks after El Alamein, the Desert Fox & his Afrika Korps were still visciously snarling like a freshly wounded lion. It appeared as the closing piece in the ‘Poems from the Desert’ anthology.

A Soldier—His Prayer

Stay with me, God. The night is dark,
The night is cold: my little spark
Of courage dies. The night is long;
Be with me God, and make me strong.

I love a game; I love a fight.
I hate the dark; I love the light.
I love my child; I love my wife.
I am no coward. I love Life,

Life with its change of mood and shade.
I want to live. I’m not afraid,
But me and mine are hard to part;
Oh, unknown God, lift up my heart.

You stilled the waters at Dunkirk
And saved Your servants. All Your work
Is wonderful, dear God. You strode
Before us down that dreadful road.

We were alone, and hope had fled;
We loved our country and our dead.
And could not shame them; so we stayed
The course and were not much afraid.

Dear God that nightmare road! And then
That sea! We got there—we were men.
My eyes were blind, my feet were torn,
My soul sang like a bird at dawn.

I knew that death is but a door.
I knew what we were fighting for:
Peace for the kids, our brothers freed,
A kinder world, a cleaner breed.

I’m but the son my mother bore,
A simple man, and nothing more.
But—God of strength and gentleness,
Be pleased to make me nothing less.

Help me, O God, when Death is near
to mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall—if fall I must—
My soul may triumph in the Dust.

John Jarmaine & Hamish Henderson are two blooms of the same plant, a sweet-smelling desert asphodel whose wafting fragrance touches the souls of all who near it. Away from the sands, Henderson lived a long & fruitful life, reinigorating the Scottish folk music tradition & embellishing his nation’s striving for independence with his poetical insight. Jarmaine was not so lucky, but it in his posthomous life that still speaks to us all. In 2013, a cache of 150 letters written by Jarmain to Beryl hwas discovered in a family bureau. In them we see the originals of his poems, & also his voice as a man, who described his situation in the desert as being one with, “everything liberally sprinkled and intermixed with sand. Can you picture it all?” These letters can only serve to give the future a much wider insight to the one that we have to hand. James Crowden’s book is an excellent start, but I am sure as the decades & centuries flow by, that every word written by Jarmain’s hand will take on some form of quasi-religious status as we look back on one of the last true poets of the ‘archaic’ human dispensity for mass, murderous warfare.


BUY THE BOOKS

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Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica
Hamish Henderson

Flowers in the Minefields
James Crowden

 

 

 

 

 

Birth of a Poet 7: Gulf of Poets

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Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure through the journey that made him a poet…


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MONDAY 27th APRIL 1998

A policeman woke me up, a la Saturday, & went to the usual spot. Jesse was there snoring & Kapitano went off to get stoned. Slept another couple of hours, then went for one last walk around Pisa. Found out last Saturday’s football scores – its an Arsenal championship & touch & go on Burnley’s relegation issues. Then I said goodbye to the gang & actually broke free! I’d never expected to spend ten days in Pisa, but I did & they were mentally funny!

On the way to the stazione I had a bit of wine with a Yugoslavian who had escaped from the civil war in 1991, who very kindly taught me a little Italian. After this I bought a new writing book (4500 lira) & a pencil (500 lira). I was going to steal them, but my good angel took over. I’ve got some important poetry to write & its better I do it with a clean karmic conscience.

I had a couple of hours or so to kill before my train to La Spezia, so I made out an itinerary & sorted my bags. In short, I have a few day’s food, very little money – my emergency tenner plus 3,800 lira including 3000 from Kapitano as a parting gift – & a desire to write some beautiful poetry!

After 10 days’ skill rust, the train jump was touch & go at moments, but successful in the end. The journey was cool, sticking my head out of an open window & feeling the intercity wind rush through my hair. The sky was severely overcast, the mountains obscured in a rolling sea-mist, then I sensed it was time to hide in a toilet. I timed it wrong & emerged face-to-face with the conductor. He went ‘uh’ & pointed to his ticket. I went ‘uh’ & gestured down the carriage, in which direction I went before hiding in another toilet. This made me edgy, so I got off one stop early.

It was now beginning to rain. I bought some water, but pinched some vegetables, & caught a bus to La Spezia. The ride was OK, & allowed me to absorb the scenery. Then, as I caught my first glimpse of the bay – the Gulf of Poets – I felt a mad, poetic rush tingling thro’ my body.

The bus wound along the coast, thro’ Lerici & its ‘Hotel Shelley’ & into busy looking La Spezia, where I quickly caught another bus for Portovenere, my main destination on this leg of my writing tour. This new bus wound around the northern curve of the bay, which was looking really cool. The scene was spoil’d a little by the modern docks, altho’ the warships were charming.

Eventually we arrived in the ‘centro’ of Portovenere, where I hopped off the bus into a shower. I quickly sprinted to a dry-spot, full of rubbish & stray cats. At this point I was definitely NOT buzzin’ off my excursion. The rain stopp’d soon enough, however, & I took my first look at the town.

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Portovenere – Port of Venus – is an old wall’d place, the main street being about 10 feet wide, if that, & lined with shops. The place was very quiet, & after a couple of minutes walking I arrived at an old church & medieval ramparts. It was all very poetic & I was moved by the colour of the place – the most violent greys I’ve ever seen. At the end of the village I look’d out over the sea, where angry-looking folding clouds beckon’d more rain.

I scrambl’d down to some rocks, where I ate a small meal while watching the sea roll & thrash its wild sprays as it crash’d against the rocks. I then climb’d some more rocks behind me to the right, where on a jagged promontory I sat like a wizard inspired, rattling thro’ a new stanza for ‘The Death of Shelley.’

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Having chang’d my mind about sleeping by the ocean (I was bound to get wet), I made my bed in an old building, dry & windproof, then took a little stroll along the boat-lined seafront. Out across bay the scatter’d lights of various settlements marked mankind, including a largish island just off the coast of Portovenere. I think I will swim across. According to a plaque at a place called ‘Byron’s Grotto,’ the poet swam the width of the entire bay once. The Gulf of Poets indeed!

I had a quick cappuccino & work’d out my stay in the area would be three days -’til the end of this journal & the end of April – & perhaps my money! I then return’d to my bed where, after a scare with a screaming cat, I fell asleep to the wish-wash of waves.


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The clifftop where a poet was born

THURSDAY 28TH APRIL

A busy day indeed! Awoke quite rough in a dusty place – I could have pick’d a better spot actually – & breakfasted on one of my pre-prepared butties. A was almost on auto-pilot as I blindly got on a bus to La Spezia, half-asleep & bleary-eyed.

On re-arrival in La Spezia, I asked a couple of folk & discovered where Shelley’s final home was – San Terenzo. I also did a spot of shopping; some lovely bread & few eggs, two of which would smash before the end of the day. Back in Portovenere, I spent the afternoon wandering about, climbing the steep steps of Portovenere a thousand times, & found these amazing caves just along the cliffs. I proceeded to move all my stuff there, intending to sleep there come nightfall.

I then made a visit to Le Grazie, the wee bay before Portovenere, where I bought wine cigarettes & had a very enchanting walk around an old Roman villa. It was then back to Portovenere & my swim to the island I saw yesterday. The waves were quite powerful, but I made it there & back, where I was greeted by screaming Italian schoolgirls.

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The poet at Byron’s Grotto, 2012

The physical effort had left me craving sugar, so I went to the local shop on the edge of town to pinch some chocolate. I got out OK, & sat outside chomping it over the sea a little too blatantly. Suddenly the owner appeared on my shoulder & order’d me to pay – fair enough, & he could have given me to the cops.

By late afternoon I was busy preparing an evening’s fire. The caves were cool; a rocky quarry with lots of nooks & crannies to explore, plus a center-piece rusting truck. I also had a magnificent view of Portovenere & the long expanse of the Mediterranean, when to the crash of waves of rocks I was fill’d with the spirit of poetry.

I prepared everything I needed to cook a meal that night, then with about an hour or so of sunlight left I decided to make for the highest cliff I could see. I had arm’d myself with a pen, a book of Shelley’s poetry to read & also write in, plus the all-important wine.

Shoving everything down the back of my pants I had a great time climbing up the rocky cliff, when at any time I could have fallen to my doom. It seemed like a wall of vegetation had been thrown up to keep out humans, but I defied it & got through with only a couple of cuts. My jumper kept out the rest.

I wander up the coastline for to muse,
Set up my camp in the cliffside quarry,
Resplendent in luscious blue sea-side views,
Round the chapel of Portovenere,
For here, tonight, my life & art shall fuse
& I, awakened to my destiny,
Prepare for the sun to set ‘low the line,
By buildin’ fire, entrin’ town, stealin’ wine.

With topless bottle of red in my hand
Up the cliff-face I scamper with the might
Of some fabled hero from Plato’s land.
I claim the top, where gulls in freedoms flight,
Silhouette the settin’ sun, a wide band
Of gold spread cross azure seas, from this height
I muse on the rippling sea meadows blue –
This evening gives birth to a poet true.

I pause to reflect on the life I knew,
Nice house, nice job, nice girl, nice skunk, nice deal
& compare it to these skies & seas of blue
And this sense of assurity I feel.
At joinin’ the elite, select brave few
No more a cog on the soul grindin’ wheel.
Besides, England does my fuckin’ brain in
& I bet, as I write, it is rainin’.

When I could go no further I found myself on a ledge about 300 feet above the sea, watching the gulls swoop & the sun going down. I was in perfect solitude & thoroughly inspired, & flew thro’ a few new stanzas. In the ever-fading twilight I set off back, but came across a path that led upwards & onwards over the cliffs for miles. So, in search of adventure & poetical ascension I too the way.

I pass’d some abandon’d buildings – how they got the stone up there I’ll never know -, then reach’d a TV ariel station thingy. I leapt a few feet onto its roof & took in the panorama. The whole Gulf of Poets was lit up, with a sailboat lit up quite splendidly at its center, & I could even make out the lights of Livorno, way down the coastline.

By now it was almost dark, so I descended back down along the path, gaining another stanza en route. I enter’d Portovenere tipsily singing, “COME ON YOU CLARETS!”, which echoed around the mountains & disturb’d some dogs. I nestled at the foot of the castle for yet another stanza, before plunging into town for even more composition. It was then that my pen finally ran out, so I made my way up those bloody steps one last time & back to my cave.

I lit the fire & cook’d up some noodles, veg & an egg. Another egg & a sandwich had mysteriously disappeared! It tasted gorgeous, & was topp’d off with cake & chocolate & the rest of the wine. A suitable, celebratory feast for being a poet & being alive!

In the firelight I manage to finish off the first canto of my poem. It truly was a magnificent night & made me believe that the life I have chosen is a worthy one. Poetry contains the essence of life itself, & a life of poetry is a life well lived. With this in mind I went to bed satisfied & fell into a sound, profound slumber.


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WEDNESDAY 29TH APRIL

Woke up in quite a good state, & just lay in my makeshift bed for a while, staring at the cavernous ceiling. I then emerged & spent a couple of hours writing up neatly last night’s work, which I read aloud on the clifftop to the roar of waves. The day was hot & cloudy, & about 2 in the afternoon, after a quick sketch of the church, & packing up all my stuff, I made my way to the bus-stop. It was time to leave Portovenere.

The bus took me all the way around the bay – through Le Spezia & into wee San Terenzo. On arriving I stash’d my bags on a sloping, forested hill – there was nowhere else to do it – for houses filled all the flat terrain. I took a stroll to the seafront, quite pretty but not rivetingly amazing. I can see what Shelley saw in it, tho’, its very relaxed out of the way.

The bay here is quite small – I could see Portovenere in the distance, & Lerici just along the coast. The best bit, of course, was Shelley’s last house – still standing. The Casa Magni was very enthralling, & I read the plaques & chilled in front of it for a while, in the sun, feeling pretty good about myself.

San Terezno

I decided to prepare for another night of poetics, & walk’d along the bay to Lerici – a similar place to San Terezno, but a little bigger. I bought bread, fags & more 30p cartons of wine, & stole some veg, leaving me 13,000 lira. This part of the Gulf of Poets was thick with small sailing boats, & extremely quiet – not as resorty as Portovenere, but I guess it might my way back to busy up in the Summer.

I made my way back to the place I stash’d my bags, a quite pretty spot surrounded in snowdrop like flowers. I prepared a fire, played my guitar & then, just as the sun was gradually falling, I went on an appetite-building walk. I found a lovely & secluded sandy beach where I chill’d for a while thinking about my poem, then returned to my ‘site’ to light the fire & cooked up a crude but hearty ‘woodman’s slop.’

I then made up a bottle of wine from a carton & went back to the house to write some poetry. Alas, soon after I arrived it began to rain, so I ran back to the site, grabb’d my stuff & moved to a hut near by which I’d scouted earlier in the day as a potential sleep-spot. This turn’d out to be a good move as the rain began lashing it down, belting off the corrugated roof. It was, however, all proper buzzin’ as I drank my wine & composed poetry – the first two stanzas of the second canto of my poem.

 


THURSDAY 30TH APRIL

This is my final entry in this journal. A time to reflect on what has been quite an interesting month; my first foreign holiday for years & my first ‘real’ traveling experience. I have visited five countries, sampl’d many cuisines & alcohols, got stoned more than a few times, created literature, jump’d trains with some proficiency, & ate like a king.

I awoke in the woodshed to a world still raining severely. I snuggl’d down in artistic defiance spent a few hours writing, reading & completing last night’s sleeping. The rain just kept on coming all day – never really stopping til 10PM. I knew a full day in as shed would not be very good for the muse, so at about 2PM – in a relatively brief lull in the weather – I braved the outside world.

I began to hop on & off busses, riding around for a bit & composing poetry on cardboard with a blunt pencil crayon, until I reach’d Sarzana. I look’d at the places the trains went to & saw that Luni was only a few minutes away. Apparently there was an ampitheatre there, which I’d read in a visitor’s guide I’fd pick’d up at La Spezia. So I got myself there, admiring my very fine – if a little patchy – new beard in the toilet.

On arriving at Luni it was still raining, but I trudged the half mile to the site, climb’d over the fence & chill’d out amid the impressive ampitheatre. It always amazes me how civilized the Romans were – but if their society can break down, so can ours!

On the way back to San Terezno I pinch’d some bratwurst from a supermarket, along with wine & bread which I bought, then prepared for a long wait at the stazione. It was one of those two trains a day, middle of nowhere places, but to my surprise a train duly arrived in just a couple of minutes, & a few minutes later was back in my shed! All my stuff was still there, & only a little damp!

I changed shows & headed straight back out – I had the muse – for La Spezia, arm’d with wine, a new pen I’d pinched from a lottery place,& some proper writing paper. I wander’d about the city for a bit, writing away by the palm-tree lined, boat-congested harbour, then in the peace of a park.

I was taking my poem to the height of imagination – Xanadu. Coleridge had had a glimpse of it once. In another of those trippy moments that occur in my life, just as I got to the stanza that describ’d a poet’s heaven, I arrived at a bus-stop & there on a poster was the word, XANDAU. Trippy, eh?

was soon back in my shed, where I ate a hearty feast of bread & a tin of tomatoes, which I’d laced with soy sauce & pepper. And so, reflections on April – there are too many & I am too drunk. Ciao April 1998, we had a good ‘un.


THE BIRTH OF A POET

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Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Chapter 5: Working Livorno

Chapter 6: San Guilliano

Chapter 7: Gulf of Poets

Chapter 8: Rome, then Home

Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire

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A couple of Augusts ago, the same weekend that Burnley were playing Spurs away at Wembley Stadium would coincide with the Notting Hill Carnival. This was the perfect occasion to visit London with my newly acquired American wife for our first time together. After a deli-lunch on Primrose Hill, I thought we could plunge within the city’s sweatbox in the direction of Leicester Square, for I wanted to show her something cool. Unfortunately, the cool thing wasn’t there any more, or rather they weren’t there, those floor-embedded metal plates which showed you how far away & in which direction the capital of each of the British Empire’s former colonies & dependencies lay. For a moment my soul was pricked by sadness & regret for the end of the imperial adventure, a sentiment which is, according to a new book co-authored by Danny Dorling & Sally Tomlinson, one of the chief motivating forces behind Brexit.

University. A school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied, and where, in the view of some news-sheets and political hacks, there are seditious lectures against Brexit – Harry Eyres & George Myerson 

Before the book arrived at my desk, I thought I’d check out some other reviews. To my astonishment, they were rather over-vitriolic, which I find an instant red flag to the reviewer’s nerves being twanged. Investigating further, I discovered one reviewer was a tweeter in support of Tommy Robinson & another – Patrick Maguire of the New Statesman – had obtained a “First class dissertation on the political significance of Enoch Powell’s classical scholarship.” For those who do not know, Enoch Powell was a right nob-head racist politician from the 1960s. After reading the book myself, I found the essence of these heavily politicized reviews was to find one point out of a 1000 accurate & insightful statements, & waste half their review-ink attacking the research in order to diminish the other 999.

Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about “foreign judges” and the need to “take back control” when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled? – Joris Luyendijk

So to the book itself, the crowning erudite cherry on the Brexit Book cake. Rule Britannia: Brexit & the End of Empire was published in November 2018, & is a yardstick zeitgeistograph still relevant 6 months later, when nothing much has actually happened in a Brexit process suffering delay after delay, & also eroding the traditional parties’ powers as seen in the recent local elections. Its authors are both Oxbridge connected scholars, but coming from a non-Etonian angle. This enables a refreshing honesty to talk about what they have observed in the leadership factories of Britain, which create situations where the present Tory cabinet has no representative from the working, & even middle, classes.

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Danny Dorling

The chief seam of the authors’ investigations is that certain influential elements among the British were suffering a terrible hangover after losing the Empire. As the profits from imperial ‘tribute’ disappeared – i.e. those one-sided trade deals with the colonies – the country decided to bed down with the European Union for financial security. Roll on four decades, & with old colonial families hankering for the glory days, coupled with an imminent European Parliament cut-down on tax-avoidance by the super-rich, & bo-oom! you’ve got the self-interest dream-team that masterminded Brexit. Of course, the democratic rights of 17 million voters had to be fooled & manipulated, but luckily the old ‘blame the immigrants’ carpet was safely tucked in Enoch Powell’s cupboards, & was rolled out to great fanfare by the Leave-dominated press. In essence, all the crap the British are experiencing right now is to preserve a few family fortunes. Time will look back on this period & say what the Leave vote really meant was an abandoning of a sinking ship by intelligent & skilful immigrant workers, who chose to Leave a place of insults & scapegoating.

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The Brexitier’s bus outside parliament.

Eight years ago we were worried about the BNP. Four years ago we were worried about UKIP. Now it is the conservatives themselves who are the driving force behind division & fear – Concerned Parent

The British Empire had its nasty moments – its a century since Amritsar, two since Peterloo. It let the Irish starve & heavily compensated the slave-traders on the abolishment of that dreadful business. While plundering a quarter of the world for its own gain, the Empire also created a syllabus of eugenicized fictions for its children – the white race was superior, & among the white races the British was defiantly the best. This created natural condescensions in the British consciousness, when the domestic underclass & the imperial over-class united in a sense of patriotic superiority. ‘This rotten alliance,’ say the authors, ‘still exists in the twenty-first century and goes some way to explaining the xenophobia, racism and hostility that is such an obvious part of our British heritage.’

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With the inevitable maturing of the Human psyche, British education will actually focus on the waves of immigration which created its rich DNA, from the Belgic tribes of Ceasar’s day, to the Polish influx in recent years. Unfortunately, jingoism still jangles in school texts, especially in the old classrooms of the nation’s elderly voters, the majority of whom opted for Leave in 2016. Another majority vote was an eye-opener. Coming from Burnley (the Spurs game was 1-1, by the way), I’ve had absolute bell-ends remark that my townsfolk were responsible for Brexit, & I kind of went along with it. Danny & Sally’s research quash the myth, explaining that the Brexitiers were basically slightly less well-off Tories from a relatively immigrant-free Middle England, wondering why they weren’t doing as well as other Tories across the land. Brilliant!

The UK sits on its own as a rich economy that experienced a strong economic performance while the real wages of its workers dropped – Valentina Romei

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Sally Tomlinson

Rule Britannia is a real eye-opener of a book, a lucid text complemented by lots of lovely graphs, maps & diagrams. As I read it, I really enjoyed how many paragraphs finish with a punchline of divergent thought, like the final turn’d couplet in an Elizabethen sonnet. The tale we are told presents in a pretty unarguable fashion how the rich are getting richer via measures of draconian austerity, working the poor so hard – & into a state of weakness – that they will not be able to protest against acts of clear theft perpetrated by the increasingly wealthy. I mean, we’re never told this by the press, but how can a Britain of 2019 see a rise in death-rates, child poverty & infant mortality. We are also informed of British society’s being left behind by a more progressive mainland, leaving me with the conclusion ‘why on earth would we actually want to leave.‘ But the authors do retain optimism, explaining how Brexit might be the kick up the arse we all need, the great opening up of the British psyche when, ‘there is a great hope that we will learn from our mistakes & become better people.’ It is indeed high time we British discovered the scandalous truths behind the appropriation of wealth by the rich at the expense of the vast majority. The ‘Remainers’ – I personally believe we should be bringing down barriers not putting them up – should also take solace in the fact that 71 percent of under 25s – the country’s future – voted to remain in Europe.

When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment & health services fort its people, it is depriving a whole generation of the right to prosperity & happiness Oscar Arias Sanchez

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The gates of Trinty college cambridge (the richest in all of England). Again people sleeping in tents outside. This college is about to do a “mini-Brexit” and attempt to privatise its pension scheme to be the first to leave the all university wide scheme (which could then lead to it leaving for the UK higher education system…)

The only drawback of this book is that although the authors rightly paint Britain as a place of drudgery & misery for the masses, the evidence they present is only cool comment & cold statistic. There is no experiences of wandering around the estates of Hull, North Peckham, Paisley & Burnley Wood. A little more research into who these ‘kind’ of leave-voters were would have complemented their theory & presented a more kaleidoscopic & believable solution. But what they have focused on, one cannot deny is perfectly sound, informative & page-turningly entertaining, a brief sample of which I shall present in aphorismic fashion.


QUOTES FROM THE BOOK

  • Delusions of grandeur are essential to rule over an empire. A people have to fool themselves, & to be fooled, into believing that they are special enough to rule over huge multitudes of others
  • When you destroy the textile industry in one continent, after enslaving people from a second continent and forcing them to pick cotton in a third continent to be woven in Manchester, all to make a profit, you are receiving tribute
  • When its people fail to adapt, an empire mentality remains a long time. Especially when it is it not clear to many people in the UK by whom or what the empire was defeated
  • Many of the British elite came to believe that the British were personally the pinnacle of humanity, & particular families in Britain were at the very top of that pinnacle
  • The last time pay fell as much as it has fallen recently was during the 1860s & 1870s… life expectancy in the UK has stalled in a way that, like pay falls, has not been seen since the 1860s. It is projected that an extra million years of life will be lost by 2058 if these trends are not altered.
  • Some of those who consider themselves elite can often be rather dim. They talk of themselves as ‘privileged,’ to have been selectively educated, whereas the real privilege is to be educated among all your peers. How can you understand other people if you have never properly mixed with them?
  • It is actually a privilege not to have been sent to a boarding school or taught old-fashioned arrogant ideas. It is a privilege to get to know your mum & dad as you grow up rather than seeing the nanny and house master as your substitute parents
  • Just one of the many problems the British have is the amount of money they spend attempting to retain the advantage of a small elite whose children are seen to deserve their privilege. That requires their parents to prevent too many lower-class children joining their group, going to their schools, their universities, taking their jobs & buying similarly impressive homes
  • What is the point in sending your children to a grammar or private school if later they have to compete with children from good comprehensives who know more about life than your children do? No wonder so many Conservatives hate comprehensives
  • When India, & then most of the colonies in Africa, won their freedom, The British race found themselves suddenly becoming much poorer. They blamed the trade unions & socialists in the 1970s. To try to maintain their position, from 1979 onwards they cut the pay of the poorest in a myriad of ways & vilified immigrants in the newspapers they owned or influenced
  • The British had been distracted from the rise in equality & the consequent poverty that grew with it by decades of innuendo & then outright propaganda suggesting that immigration was the main source of most of their woes.
  • In Britain, as soon as economic recovery began, the rich pocketed all the proceeds – at the expense of the large majority. Such a scenario is only achievable with uncontrolled greed at the very top & a prevailing spirit of meanness
  • The whole idea of being just one of 28 European states, & having to cooperate & compromise, rather than lording it over them, had never gone down well with the manufactured British psyche.
  • Part of the reason Britain has been so happy to welcome in the super-rich from other countries is that extremely rich people currently bankroll political parties, especially when that is in their direct financial interest – if they can successfully lobby for lowered taxation & regulation, that’s money well spent
  • The Leave campaign also had the uncosted support of Rupert Murdoch & most of British tabloid newspapers, as well as the Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph
  • The key vote for leave came from the English home counties and the narrow band of counties that surround them
  • In short, then, Tory England voted Britain out. These were areas that had often loyally voted Conservative for decades, but economically were not doing anything like as well as other Tory areas, which cannot have seemed right to many people living there
  • Older, less well-off, less well-educated Tory Britain was where the most votes for Brexit were. It cannot be said often enough. It was not Sunderland or Stoke that swung it.
  • They desperately wanted Britain to leave. But even they were shocked that Leave won on the first attempt. In a way it was a little too early for them. They were not prepared for their victory, & did not know what to do with it.
  • Whatever kind of Brexit occurs – hard, soft, or even cancellation and staying in the European Union – Britain will be much diminished by the Brexit process
  • Dublin is currently experiencing a building boom as firms quietly relocate to Europe’s only other English-speaking state
  • The future of farming in Britain has been cast into great uncertainty, as the UK may well not be able to replicate the EU farming subsidies in future, & at the same time fund its National Health Service & keep its taxes low for the rich & its efficient industrial & service sectors as they currently are. Something is going to have to give
  • Today we are all the detritus, the debris of empire, & we have to build a new raft from that
  • As the immigrants are no longer arriving in enough numbers to be blamed, the attention will increasingly be focused on the rich & the greedy
  • Partly as a result of Brexit, the next generation will soon have a far better idea of the sins, misconceptions & ignorance of their fathers, & hence will be relieved when the UK cease to be a significant military power. It is for the next generation to make Britain decent, to make Britain human & to consign the empire’s triumphant song to history.