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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

10 years ago... "Make Capitalism History, Bono. Make Capitalism History..."

Two things changed in my life in 2005. One of them has had a lasting effect on my life, the other means I listen to irish pop and rock with a cynical ear.

Hungover, I prepare to deliver anti-capitalism to the white teeshirt wearing hordes...
I started my year off with the customary play of U2’s “War” Album, with the wonderful album version of the song, New Years Day. By the end of the year, that personal tradition had changed because of how let down I felt (though I have to admit still loving the track…), and Rat Trap, by the Boomtown Rats also fell from my playlist. My memories of twenty years before, 1985 and the Live Aid concert was sullied and I knew because of Bono, Geldoff and Blair, a ultra right-wing corporate world was inevitable.

Baby bush outside Dungavel 
If anything, this was to be Scotland’s practise for what happened on the lead up to last year’s referendum. The hope and the gathering of many campaigns under one slogan – a slogan I was attracted to, but a slogan I knew carried a caveat. A very important one – Make Poverty History was not possible without making capitalism history. And some of us knew that Blair, Brown, Bush et al had no want to do that no matter how many white teeshirts Richard Curtis sold. Last year’s Yes campaign took on the social justice, anti-nuclear and pro-immigration mantel of the Make Capitalism History campaign I had been part of.

My wife and we'an with Jimmy scott and Rosie Kane outside Faslane Nuke base...
I remember going to dusty halls in Glasgow to learn about what to do if arrested as an activist, what the Police were likely to ask, what I should answer and what they didn’t need to know. I remember going to public meetings, hosted by various left groups, all united in the want for a better world. A world in which poverty died, not killed. A world where equality, freedom and social justice was the goal – not war profiteering, Reaganomist, Thatcherist, neo-liberalist, neo-conservative, corporate globalisation.

And I drank many pints in bars discussing the future of the capitalist world, how to make poverty truly a memory. And I drank manys a can of Stella whilst arguing, debating, discussing on online forums.

Trumpeter activist outside Faslane...

Same trumpeter outside Dungavel explaining to Carolyn Leckie, an MSP at the time, about what the police did to him and his friends...

1999 had been the turning point for many. The kick back. The day when Seattle taught us how to expose them and expose their creed and greed. Seattle ’99 – people remember it as when the new left emerged.

Then came their turning point, 9/11, and their wars. But we fought back. This was Scotland’s Seattle ’99. This was to be our generations George Square 1919. And boy, like the fight for the 40 hour week, did the elites throw everything at us (bar tanks).

This year, the media will remember 7th July 2005. A dreadful day in London. A day when ordinary people lost their lives to murderous bastards. I will remember that, standing in a bar in Gran Canaria watching events unfold while other pint swilling brits droned on about how these muslims should be put in their place. I was too hungover to react too much to their nonsense. I did say, and it was a coat getting moment, that this was going to mean many, many more innocent lives sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hungover, I speak to a radio journalist...

...and give out leaflets...

But I will also remember the beautiful moments when we all came together in Scotland to fight against the elites who want us to be in perpetual war. I will remember the many millions of lives still blighted by the Blairite reaction to 9/11 and 7/7. I will continue to shine a light on the elites who make millions on the back of death, destruction and poverty. And I will also remember the 2005 buffer between truth and the Blairite cave in to corporatism – the Geldoff’s, the Bono’s and the Richard Curtis’s who told us - we - who did not rely on clicking fingers and slogans for our fame, were bad protesters. And they clicked their fingers and told us children would die if we didn’t support the war criminals Blair and Brown behind the barbed wire and dog patrolled perimeter fences at the luxury Gleneagles Hotel. And they told us by wearing their brand of enclosed protest, we would Make Poverty History.

Fumbling with one of those newly fangled mobile phone things...

The millions who joined in the clicking fingers and wearing the white teeshirts and white rubber bands did not make poverty history and I don’t blame them for believing that they were part of something that could. Hope is a word, an aspiration that led to the Obama administration blasting weddings and families in poor Afghanistani and Pakistani communities with drone weapons. The demonstrations organised (and some that were taken over) by Geldoff and his egotist followers did manage to do a few things. They drew attention to the fact at just how helpless we are in the face of the banking and billionaire takeover of our democracies. The 2007/8 economic crashes and the subsequent impoverishment (and profit making from impoverishment) of the Greeks and other nations have again drawn attention to who are controlling us.

The demonstrations organised by a tired Geldoff also brought together groups from across the Country – and indeed, across the world and exposed them to the arguments many of us had been trying to put to them for years. But their festivals/ rock concerts became nothing more than a second rate Live Aid, were nothing would be remembered by many only the white teeshirts, the branding and the dreadful regurgitation of “Let them Know it’s Christmas time agaiiiin…” months later. The experiment in corralling and taming protest worked. The hope was defeated and the failure blatant for all to see. Our message that you could not make poverty history without making capitalism history is as true today as it has been in the nearly 300 years history of the system that replaced feudalism.

The Scottish Socialist Party, of which I was and still am a member, were key in organising demonstrations across the country – demonstrations that brought people to key places where making capitalism history would have a huge impact. We had huge demonstrations at Faslane. I witnessed my first experience of kettling at Dungavel removal Centre. And we cut a red swathe through the white river of concert fans and Live Aid nostalgia. And after every demo, I had a great political conversations over a few pints – and on a few of those occasions, I managed to persuade people around us, including barmen and women, to go to Auchterarder to shout at the G8 leaders.

I played "New Years Day," the sublime album version, on January the first this year.  I have kind of forgiven Geldoff and Bono.  Bono because of his awakening many young teenaged irish people to another way (as did other bands like Stiff Little Fingers) and actually brought busloads of us together, catholic and protestant in places like Croke Park and the Ulster Hall, and Geldoff because of his great wee pop-punk song about living in poverty, "Rat Trap." But they were very wrong in taming the anti-capitalist, anti-poverty movement.

All that will save me now is another pint... 

One reaction to me wearing my red teeshirt emblazoned with “Make Capitalism History,” at the Geldoff/Bono/Curtis white out in the Meadows of Edinburgh was from a young, trendy looking guy who said to me – “Why are you spoiling this by politicizing it?” I couldn’t think of an answer quick enough for two reasons – one, incredulity and two, I was nursing the worst hangover in history until that point.

feel better after a roll...
And it was at that point I decided I needed a rest from the booze. It was impeding my activism… and later that year I went off it for a year. A few years later, this led to me giving it up completely. And there is the thing that has stayed with me ever since. My activism will never be at full tilt while nursing a hangover.

Make Capitalism History. Join the Scottish Socialist Party…

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Kitch Belfast...

I haven't wandered Belfast's streets for many years, having left Northern Ireland in my mid-late twenties (over 20 years ago!).  It's a changed place – I had favourite haunts back then.  The Mandela Hall, the Bot, The Eg, The Crown, Robinsons, The Empire, The Rajput, Lavery’s, The wee French place (Frogties?) on Shaftsbury Square, The Mexican Cantina, which used to serve the best deep fried ice-cream I have ever had – and served by my two favourite waiters of all time – my friends Madeline and Una, and a greasy joe café whose name escapes me I used to dive into for a fry before driving/ getting the bus back to Banbridge after a particular heavy night…

Return to County Down - us atop Slieve Donard...

Times have changed.  Belfast has changed, and so have I.  The “Golden Mile” no longer means drink, madness and party – I no longer drink and nowadays, I don’t eat meat.  So on my quiet return to the streets of a shinier, less dangerous (not that danger ever put younger, brasher, me off), but certainly more cosmopolitan, safer, beautiful Belfast (and one in which every turn brought back memories of people, party and wonder), my wife and I had to find a vegetarian eaterie. 

We did the sights, we heard the street music and we chilled in the spring sunshine.  And I rediscovered my past and bored her with silly incidents from my late teens- late twenties. And we googled vegetarian restaurants.

In Glasgow, this is not a problem.  We have restaurants that thrive serving vegetarian only menus.  I thought we would struggle to find anywhere in steak, spuds and Ulster fried Northern Ireland.  I was truly, pleasantly surprised.  There were a few places on “the strip” that had vegetarian menus.  We decided to try Kitch.
When we went in, we were met by a friendly, very enthusiastic waiter.  He sat us down at a wee table by the wall.  Let’s start negative – the seats were uncomfortable.  Jim – get some cushions for those.

The menu we were given had a few vegetarian dishes on it – but not enough to take our fancy and we decided to leave.  She said, “thanks, but there aren’t enough vegetarian things on the menu.” 
“But we have a vegetarian menu!” Came the answer.  We took a look and we were stuck for choice!  Something in the few days we spent in Northern Ireland we hadn’t seen anywhere else – a menu for vegetarians with imagination.  With more than goats cheese and risotto. 

We were impressed and hoped the food would live up to the music, the quirky décor (Jim – if you are ever in Glasgow, check out The ’78 or Mono or Stereo – shabby chiq and with something Kitch could add – a venue… a place people meet to listen to music and eat good food and drink good brews both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and the brilliant welcome and craic we had with the manager, James Connolly.  A great name – an Edinburgh name that made these two political animals feel at home and chat that really made us relax into the more comfortable seats we asked to be moved to.

And then the food arrived.  She had Chargrilled Haloumi, I had the Feta Fritters with honey and balsamic vinegar.  She wished she had got what I got, I was glad we shared – both dishes were heaven!  The fritters beautifully crisped on the outside and creamy on the inside – the honey and balsamic helping create a sweet and caramel sapor. And the non alcoholic cocktail mixed for us by the waiter matched anything from said Glasgow restaurants.

No plaque for Teenage Kick Terri?

Our day in Belfast had been to explore the old (I thought there should have been a plaque on the wall at the site of “Good Vibrations,” the shop from which I still have some of my indie vinyl), and the new -  the statue of Lenin outside the Kremlin nightclub really cheered me up (and also the fact it was a gay club – a sexuality we were told twenty years ago did not exist in Northern Ireland)!  Also being able to walk past Ashers and feel I was doing something political by deciding, even though I was choking for a coffee, I would boycott the “anti-gay cake” restaurant.  And a fizzy water in the gas lit Crown (she had never been).  And visiting the Ulster museum to find my Great uncle James on video (he’s in this BBC documentary).  The staff there – and in particular one woman, were so helpful, friendly and again – interesting!  

A fizzy water in the Gas-lit Crown...

... she'd never been...

The Kremlin, Belfast.  Sexy socialism...

Relaxing, and talking about oul’ haunts and characters with Jim in Kitch over great food just finished off the day in which my wife discovered and I rediscovered and updated my past, superbly.

The main course was imaginative, tasty and filling.  The Sliders were a great idea – three wee vege-burgers all of different types (I had one of each – the 3 spice burger, the piri piri tofu and the cooling portabello mushroom and goats cheese), served in a wooden tray were spicy, sumptuous and moreish.  Again, service with a smile and chat and the place by this time was filling up.  It seems it is the new place to be.  She went for the Risotto – something I TRY to avoid nowadays, but having tasted her’s, I would not avoid the Kitch risotto.  Compliments to the chef’s all round. 

We dared eat dessert – the dieting for summer would start next week – she went for the choc brownie and ice-cream and I went for the Lemon Posset and raspberry – and can I say, two and a half weeks later and I am still craving it, I still taste the beautifully thick, creamy, tangy ambrosia!

If you are in Belfast and you haven’t discovered Kitch – go relax there.  Go chill, eat, be entertained and experience.  The staff are interesting, quirky, helpful and really hard working.  And chat to Jim.  He’s great craic.  If you are a tourist – there is no better place to find an alternative to the steaks, spuds and goats cheese…
And Belfast – it was lovely to see you shine!

Monday, 23 March 2015

My latest podcast for the SSP...

In this podcast (made on the day Scotland saw an eclipse of the sun!): Allan Grogan, co-founder of Labour For Independence and now SSP, talking about how the SNP majority council through in Dundee is now letting down the majority working class yes voters; Ron Mackay on the increasing danger of nuclear war; Calum Martin on how Scottish Politics were changed by the French revolution; Beinn Irbhinn on splitting the Yes vote and Hollie Cameron on how social media and the main stream media may be putting off powerful political women from coming to the fore.

We have music from Scottish bands The Cundeez and Button Up and also, Joe Solo and Lead Belly.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

As the rich blame our parents and grandparents, we say, "Pay your fuc*ing taxes!"

The truth?  Or the Jeremy Vine version of "well off pensioners stealing our children's future?"

I have just been listening to Jeremy Vine talk about the “divide between the old and young.” 

I feel the right and the powerful are using this conversation to divert us from the real reasons for rising inequality in the UK. Vine, and others, broadcast to, in my opinion, what they hope is an uninformed electorate, the “facts” that young people nowadays are having difficulty in getting on to the housing ladder, that their pay is much lower than previous generations and that the older people have better pensions than those of us still in work, or those just setting off on their career path will have in the future. 

Vine - diverting and dividing?

These "facts" may be facts, but the fact they are being related as one leading to the other is a dreadful tory tactic of diverting and dividing and conquering the working class. This is the case in the media discourse on immigration etc.  Racism, sectarianism and sexism, three of the oldest ways of dividing and diverting us from the real robbers have limited reach nowadays, so the tories must create other, new divisions n order to pit people against each other and conquer all of what the UK has for them and their billionaire pals.

Our pensioners, it is implied, are sucking the country dry with their post-war settlement pensions (along with Muslims, single mums, those on benefits, the disabled, women... etc). This of course, is a huge diversion from the fact that a tiny proportion of rich people  are hording money “offshore” and in Switzerland and refusing to pay a fair share of the resources they have used working people to take.  Tax avoidance and all of its related robbery, are huge.  In comparison, the blamed, so called welfare fiddles are minute -  almost infinitesimally so.

Vine, of course, willnot, like the other media outlets, take responsibility for the divisiveness of this discourse they are quite plainly creating. And they certainly do not want to discuss the real reasons for the inequalities they highlight. In fact today, Tuesday 24th February, Vine told a man not to bother talking about the Bankers and their bonuses and their destruction of our economy, as that would be raised as a separate issue later. It most certainly is not a separate issue, though they want you to separate it from the real stress our welfare system is under because of the bank heist, and tax grab of 2008 and of course before and after that economic crash.

This discourse is, of course, linked to the tory and Liberal Democrats attacks on our welfare system (with the tacit approval of the feckless neo-liberal agenda supporting Labour Party).

Our welfare and wealth and power sharing British system was at it’s height in the seventies, when in 1976, equality in the UK was at its, well, most equal. Inequality in the UK, because of the adherence to Thatcherite, almost Victorian standards of liberalist economic policies is reaching levels nowadays not seen since the days of the Victorian little match girl – a Christmas tale we never see on our TV’s anymore – but one I saw as a child of the seventies more often than the Dickensian Christmas Carol that offers charity as a solution, and we know nowadays that Food Banks and charitable cooked geese are not a solution. How many hidden little matchgirls are there nowadays, dragged into a system in which in some of the wealthiest houses, as was mentioned last week in the TV series Modern times, Welcome to Mayfair, take from them their passports and force them into indentured slavery? 

That programme, by the way, was extraordinary. Criticised by the Telegraph and other posho papers as aimless, but in my opinion a valuable piece of TV as rather than poverty porn, it was a window on the aimless, and money hording, powerful – all totally free of the concept of money – but all extremely powerful and protective of their ignorant, privileged lives even to the point that a NHS doctor feels he can say to a camera that one of his patients is an indentured slave, but doesn’t seem to have been able to go to the Police? Surely this inability of a Doctor to report this human right abuse has echoes in the protection of Sir James Wilson Vincent "Jimmy" Savile, OBE, KCSG?

Telegraph review here - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/tv-and-radio-reviews/11412509/Modern-Times-Welcome-to-Mayfair-review-what-was-the-point.html )

Welcome to Mayfair: NHS Doctor revealed indentured slavery... did anyone notice?
We need more of these programmes that put the spotlight on “our betters” as they idiotically and without thought spend thousands of pounds on a night out, yet see fit, and feel it is their right, to have slaves.

We need more documentaries that show the injustices and inequality rife in the UK. But the problem with inequality, it means that the film makers and our media is filled full of "the establishment." Working class voices, it seems, are only those affected by private school boys and girls as a rebellion or after studying us plebs in order to play them in a drama. Our actors and journalists come from a shrinking breeding stock. 

Boring as we are, we play a game in our house. If an actor or journalist or film maker catches our eye, we Wikipedia them to see if they are as working class, or ordinary as they seem to be making out. A huge amount of times, those people turn out to be privately educated and from money – or at the very least, from middle class, well supported backgrounds. Rarely do you find someone who has come from a scheme. And if you do, they are Andrew Neill, who sold out years ago – or to be fair – feels he was served well by access to a grammar school. 

What these people don’t seem to add up – these working class people who made it in the sixties and seventies because of the post war consensus, is that they had free education, they had access to work, they had adequate council housing in order to help them get on to their feet, they had welfare payments during their free university holidays and times “between jobs,” and even more- they had grants that paid for accommodation and food and beer and fun. Now, of course I’m not saying here “those older people had it better than us – let’s take away their winter fuel allowance," like the conversation Jeremy facilitated and guided. Remember in order to pay for these things, we had real jobs, generating real taxes and the rich were taxed at higher rates – and the rich, with some notable exceptions, knew we were all in this together and although their high earnings were taxed at a high rate, they were still able to afford private jets, Rolls Royces etc. (some preferred to swan off to America, a place built on massive poverty and racism, in order to pay less).  Some money did filter down to those who needed it, unlike nowadays as Iain Duncan Smith’s dreadful smashing up of the welfare system drives some of our most vulnerable to suicide. Jonathan Ross and the stars of The Last Leg said it last week… 

Giving a tin of beans or two to a foodbank may make people feel good – but it Is no solution to inequality. A tenner to Red nose day while wearing a funny wig won’t change the world - just some selected, mediated "deserving" vulnerable person. But the tories and their acolytes are changing the UK media discourse to “that poor person has a wee bit more than me,” rather than "hey, look at that guy buying an island and a £500 million massive liner with exocet missiles and calling it a yacht!"

The sense of entitlement of these people is incredible – and leads to the likes of the indentured, imprisoned slaves they feel they deserve. Just remember when you see Prince Charles wax lyrical about some injustice, he chooses how much tax he pays. 

And he pays someone to dress him. 

And just try to think with each exposed robbery through the banks, how many times we hear, “Oh, yes, that was back then – it was rife, then.” 

This is now. 

Every week we here of another "then," that came after 2008.  What are they doing to divert billions to offshore accounts now

How many are involved in invisible schemes NOW that skirt the type of robbery HSBC was caught carrying out after 2008?  After their apologies for 2008? I worked in an accountants office in 1984… these things were happening then. Lots of it was exposed in 2008/9 and now it seems, the perpetrators, rather than clean up their big bonused act, found new ways to not pay their way.

The media and its hugely rich owners and political intermediaries feed on the creation of scapegoats. Scapegoating immigrants, Jews, black people, Muslims, Catholics, women, the lowest paid, the poor etc, and those scapegoats are now slowly and insidiously being joined by our fathers and grandfathers who fought and died for a fairer system that is being at times, almost imperceptibly smashed by those who feel they could be richer without the equality in the twentieth century the working class almost gained.

Martin McKee and David Stuckler’s immensely important document from 2011, “The assault on Universalism; How to dismantle a Welfare State,” shows just how far we’ve come down the line to having our NHS and welfare stripped, when published just four years ago it seemed that it was almost scaremongering. 

We know that isn’t the case now.

They wrote about the setting up of our welfare system, back in the forties, 

“Sir William Beveridge called for a national fight against the five “giant evils” of want, disease, ignorance, squalor, and idleness. His call secured support from across the political spectrum. Although he sat in the House of Commons as a Liberal, his plans were implemented by a Labour government, and continued under successive Conservative ones. The reasons for such wide ranging support varied but, for many ordinary people, the fundamental role of the welfare state was to give them security should their world collapse around them. There were good reasons to seek security. The British people had just emerged from a war that had shown that, regardless ofhow high they were on the social ladder, they could fall to the bottom in an instant. The death and destruction of war were not the only threats; a serious illness could blight a family’s prospects. People wanted to be sure that they would not be on their own if disaster struck, and they were prepared to ensure this through taxes and insurance contributions. They were, literally, “all in it together,” accepting rationing of food and fuel to guarantee that in the face of austerity, everyone had access to the essentials.”

So how, as McKee and Stuckler’s document is entitled, do you destroy the welfare state? I don’t apologise for taking chunks from this document here.

They goes on to explain how American society is very different from ours. If you are at the bottom of society, you are most probably black, so welfare is seen as being something that is there to help people you, as someone from the majority and more affluent white society, can never be. Regardless of how far down the pecking order, in a system that is still trying to recover from a segregationalist, racist recent history, you are not “one of them.” You are not at the bottom if you are white, and at the bottom.  And society through racism and ghettoisation can easily be divided into deserving and undeserving poor.

American society also blames poverty on laziness. And over a third of social spending comes from voluntary giving which goes to whoever the rich deem as deserving, rather than a democratically elected government and consensus.

American society, with its two party system and huge geographical area, has never developed a good union network. Countries with strong unions have better welfare systems and less inequality.

“The USA does not offer a system of mutual security. Instead it provides a basic safety net, albeit an increasingly threadbare one. The advantage of the American system, if you are rich, is that you can pay much less in taxes. Indeed, the low tax/low welfare system is so skewed that a billionaire will pay a much smaller proportion of income in taxes than the poorest paid workers, so that effectively the poor are subsidising the rich. By contrast, in Scandinavia, taxes are high but, in return, the rich obtain a comprehensive package of high quality benefits either free or at minimal cost, including child care, healthcare, social care, and university education. There is a clear trade-off: you pay higher taxes but you get more back in return (as well as living in a more harmonious, safer society).”

So how do the tories go about dismantling our welfare state? Our NHS? Our education system?

Essential Reading: McKee and Stuckler... 

First create identifiable groups of undeserving poor people. Second create a discourse in which the rich see little flowing back from their taxes. Third, smash the unions and portray them as self interested organisations rather than organisations that have benefited society as a whole.

And finally, as Ronald Reagan did it in the eighties – introduce policies that have little effect now, but will come to fruition further down the line.

The press, filled with tales of scroungers, asylum seekers, immigrants, associated with welfare, creates the narrative of deserving and undeserving poor. More dangerously relatively recently, lots of this has been associated with Muslims.

And of course, universal benefits are attacked. Child benefit is removed from middle class mothers, and free tv licenses and bus passes are placed under scrutiny. Universal education is attacked – and to do this, the tories had to divert people from the real reason we educated our children for free – the benefit to all – to the whole of society and change the narrative to one of “university is not beneficial for everyone”.

And as the next generation starts to earn, of course as they are saddled with student debt as they try to pay a mortgage etc, they will question why they pay taxes at all.

“The Mirrlees Review on the tax system, commissioned by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has highlighted what it sees as an anomaly, whereby many of life’s necessities, such as food, as well as things that make life a bit more civilised, such as books, are free from value added tax. It argues that this universal policy should be redressed and, if it causes hardship, then the poor (although it admittedly does not preface this with “undeserving” but by now most readers will get the message) should receive subsidies to help them. Once again, the ordinary shopper will ask why they should be paying taxes. The direction of travel should now be clear.”

Who benefits from this dismantling? Certainly not the poor, McKee concludes, but neither do the middle classes as more of the services they recieved for free or subsidised are atomised into private services they are deemed to be able to afford. The Jeremy Vines and others will continue to ask questions such as “should well off pensioners get free travel passes if they are multi millionaires?” The fact is the multi millionaire won’t use his or her free travel pass, but EVERYONE who needs it will definitely get it, regardless of circumstances or change of circumstances. And a welfare system that ensures no-one falls off, including middle class pensioners, is of course, much more desirable to the system in the US that victimises the poor. 

And there is our battle line.  What do we want to have?  A system of blame, built on an atomised working class pitted against its constituent parts?  Or a system that will catch you if you fall and support you when you are vulnerable?

We have moved some distance from the social democratic model of the post war consensus. And I would argue that of course, social democracy is not enough. But we should not be standing by watching the rich dismantle our parent's and grandparent's  - our gains – and we should not buy into the deserving poor and undeserving poor, old and young, Muslim, immigrant, native, single mothers or scrounging disabled and sick people. Everyone deserves their share. And when people fall off the ladder, everyone deserves to have cushions and help while they recover and are helped back up again.

Each according to their need. “Pay your fu*king taxes.”

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Teaching War; "Charley's War..."

Before computer games, x-box's, wii's, Play Stations and Tablets, adults used to worry about what children were learning from comics. Some comics and comic strips were mentioned in Parliament. Some violence was blamed on them; our children's morality was in danger. They were lapping up violent imagery and learning what?

Children in the late seventies, were not child minded by violent imagery and TV in the same way some young people are nowadays. TV in those days, the one (or two max per house) if not controlled by parents, was certainly controlled by the broadcasters and Government. "Boring adult programmes," news, documentaries, dramas, were empowering for children. It made us want to be outside, summer, winter, spring or autumn! Tablet TV, games and skype have disempowered a generation, and learning about war and crime and excitement nowadays can be solitary, unguided and unmediated. Online video does not change at 9 o'clock pm. And the real, vicious, unmediated violence of modern war is easily found through Google. Technology has changed interactions within homes, but as all new innovation, society will integrate it eventually and adapt. But change perhaps needs to be a little more conscious than previous integration of new work practices, leisure, escapism, transport and communications.

Some war comics were pure escapism. Some funny, some fantasy. My favourites were the spy stories or the stories about slightly off the rail commanders or the stories that told some of the unusual history of World War 2. "The glamorous war."

When I was in Primary Seven I wrote a book, about Sammy, who ran away from home and joined the navy. He was a sailor on the Ark Royal. My first obsession. My first escape. I wanted to join the navy to see the world. Like the spies in my favourite comics. Like those in the TV series about the Ark Royal with the Rod Stewart theme tune, "Sailing." Mediated, propaganda TV. Many young people fled their immature, mundane lives for the blood drenched fields of France and Belgium between 1914 and 1918, persuaded by posters, Reverends, factory bosses, women with feathers and other empire glorifying, pointing fingers. And as we know, many didn't return.

And then there was Charley. He joined the army pretending he was old enough. He wanted escape, and this war seemed, through the propaganda, to offer that. And he ended up in the Somme. Charley was a happy go lucky Londoner, wanting to see life beyond his patch. But what he saw was dreadful. A very unglamorous, dreadful war.

And what I saw, what I longed for, was "what happened next?" The weekly wait. The mediation, when I went off and did other things. When I bought the comic, I would flick through it, check if there was something I could read without spoiling the story, and then I would read the stories in the order of, well, favourite one at the end.

Charley's War, a comic strip in the '70's-80's comic, "Battle," was really different from the other action and adventure stories I read. Although to me, WW2 was historical enough- thirty years before- WW1, with its mud and shaky, blurred, hand cranked, speeded up shadows dying as they crossed no mans land, was as far away to me as the Romans. It was about people who could not possibly be like people nowadays, in fact their visible ancientness and very different ways, proved that. In the seventies, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films were shown on Saturday morning telly, over cranked, the comedians speeding around the static scene in their almost Victorian clothes, falling and getting up. The soldiers ran forward, over cranked, through what looked like mist, falling, but not getting up. Through the silver oxide miracle of the time, the documentaries showed us the last gasps of some mothers sons, some children's fathers, sixty years before, but playing it through seventies technology made it look as irrelevant, to me as a child, as the Saturday morning falling down slapstick of Keaton or Chaplin, the horrific footage negated by the wrong playback speed. Nowadays that has been corrected.

These old men I met. The local survivors of those strange, grainy, almost comically fast movies. My Great Grandfather who still carried shrapnel in his body; the old men who placed wreaths on the memorial in church once a year, below, the names carved into white marble. "James Scott, Coy Sgt Major, Royal Irish Rifles." I knew he was my Great Uncle. My Grandfathers brother. And I stood as a child, reading his name trying to know him through the marble. I used to think to myself as I stood in the church, "How many read his name and remember him?" And I guessed, "No one." And I made sure I read his name every time I was there and try to figure out through the name in the stone list, who he was.

 Of course, now as an adult, I am sure my grandfather must have read his name. He must have had memories of this man, returning now and again for visits, playing in his head. No one spoke of him. And I thought he must be a hero. I knew he died in WW1, and I was told he had died stepping out for a smoke. And I saw his picture, hidden in a cupboard, framed, woodworm pocked. But those men were so distant. There were no movies about World War One. And no one talked about it. The old men laying the wreaths sometimes had to be helped to the memorial. And they looked sad. On the way out of church, I couldn't look towards them. I didn't want to see tears. When my granny and grandad died, I took the huge, framed picture from their house and placed it on a shelf. He looked down at me, knowingly, a life hidden by time and by unshared memories. I had questions that now that generation were gone, it was too late to ask.

James before I reframed the picture.  

And Charley told me why. Charley taught me the reasons that generation didn't talk about these things. Who would truly understand? Charley taught me that these people were young, not long ago. His lively, sometimes funny letters home showed the mask these men wore every day as they smiled, chatted and patted me on the head. In those days, old people gave children sweets. I always knew which ones carried. Those were normal days, when people talked at their front doors or popped in for a cup of tea on their way to the bus. Lots of these men had seen action; had been forced into the paths of hot, lethal, metal rain. Death. Agony. Horror. And they lost brothers and pals, and huge chunks of their soul and I know that now, without fully understanding the feeling of entrapment and fear and the feeling of pushing a knife into someone's guts and watching the life scream out of their widened, sorry, pleading, scared eyes.

And weekly, I bought Battle and Warlord, my eyes devouring the adventures of Johnny Red, Lord Peter Flint, Major Easy, Rat Pack, Killer Kane and Union Jack Jackson.

I always left Charley to the end. He was different. He was alive. Real. Not a super hero, or skilled in anything in particular. He joined up to escape... Why do we always want to escape? He was a good person who had friends around him, other flawed people thrown into the mud and gore and wickedness of the Somme. And he got letters from his family berating him for not writing and the football and the street gossip and when he did write, he never told them the horrors he witnessed.

My knowledge of my Great Uncle has vastly improved. I was contacted by a man from Belfast, Mark Scott, a very distant relative. I was able to help him with our family tree; where the Roberts'/ Bobs', including my dad, fitted in. And I introduced him to my dad, even though I've never met him myself. All of our conversations have been by the magic of WiFi. But what he has been able to tell us is incredible. I know some of James. Where he worked. How he ran away from the dreadful bleaching works and joined up under aged and served in South Africa against the Boers. How he distinguished himself, Mark says,"He had experienced defeat at the battle of Colenzo and terrific victory at Pieters Hill and Ladysmith. He had also been taken prisoner by the Boers in September 1901 at Blood River Poort when his unit was ambushed and surrounded. He remained on the army reserve until 1910."

He left the army to work in Grangemouth, Scotland, and then on the buses in Belfast. How he met his wife and they had five children. I now have photos of him with his family. And how he helped smuggle guns into Ulster to fight against the army he had once served. He was a Young Citizens Volunteer man, fighting home rule against the British Army, when war broke out and the paramilitary groups joined with the rest of the armies to fight the common cause of the growing German Empire, whose aristocracy and corporations were threatening other aristocracies cash cows and corporations. And James became a bomber and a high ranking one at that.

James and his family

Mark sent me material, about where and when James fought. His battalion fought at the Somme, on 1st of July 1916. James battalion was, like most that day, decimated. What he experienced, what he saw, heard, felt was horrific. The fear. The noise. The friends he must have seen dying, mowed down in mechanized death. Forced to walk out against the metal storm. Mates from home; people he knew from the wee town lands of Kernan and Lawrencetown and Tullylish and the town of Gilford. People he had grown up with, been politicized with, blown apart. Mown down. Poppies. And he must have, that man from the leafy hedges of Tullylish, killed. Watched as men were blown to bits by his bombs. That was his job. He must have fought at close quarters, stabbing, punching, strangling, kicking, shooting and stepping on the carpet of dead sons, fathers and brothers.

James Photographed by George Hackney
And his commanding officer described him as cheery. Just like Charley. Cheery in the depths of hell. Did he witness the Surreys given footballs and told to kick them as far into the German trenches as they could? A cynical game, designed to negate the camaraderie of the reported Christmas 1914 truce and football match. Like Charley, and his friends, MY friends as a nine year old, did he make the choice, "forward to almost certain death, instead of backwards to certain death by firing squad?" Forced by the men who dined on Harrods Hampers behind the lines, ordering wave upon wave of machine gun fodder forward, trampling over the dead, the dying and the body parts. Their deadly game, played out on a board and their mistakes ending lives and decimating families in "blighty."

James photographed by George Hackney after a hard day at the front.

I devoured Charley's story. The alien, ugly landscapes and the cheerful banter between Charley and his friends, main characters who over weeks I had got to know and who, unexpectedly, stunningly, shockingly got shot, blown up, killed. Charley picked up the dismembered body parts of best friend, and personally buried him. He witnessed and was ordered to take part in what nowadays we recognise as war crimes -as if all war is not a crime.

Did James? Did my other relatives?

My Great Grandfather, Thomas, on my mothers side came back from war, broken. An alcoholic, from whom my grandfather used to hide the axe, as his brave, damaged da' when drunk, wanted to kill the local landowner and those who had urged them all to the slaughter. His words to my grandfather have been passed down the family line,"if you ever join the army, I'll take the axe to you." What wonders abroad had he ran away to see? What memories of the world beyond Magherally did he have, behind weeping, reddened eyes?

Thomas Mulligan.

These men, what they were ordered- forced to do, meant women and children struggled. They had to pick up the pieces. They starved and they went, desperately, without. And the awful acts of war; the awful act of mechanised slaughter; the awful act of forcing teenagers and men to rip other men apart, caused misery and screaming silence for years to come within melted minds and across a guilty, misunderstanding society.

The story of Charley, written by Pat Mills, and brilliantly, graphically drawn by Joe Colquhoun, was decidedly anti-war; designed to show those who read, the realities of the murderous mayhem, dehumanising all who were there. And most boys my age read. Most of us must have learned from those pages. Those left behind had horrors behind those kind eyes, the ones who were strong enough to endure the memories. My Great Grandfather died in his early forties, broken, angry, sad, a shadow.

The story tellers within the pages of the weeklies were teachers, teaching me things my family didn't want to, nor TV or Holywood wanted to, or knew how to portray. Horror after muddy, gory horror did not interest film makers.

Today's children have Call of Duty and other, frenetic, enveloping, involving, electronic comics without soul. So destructive and unquestioning of war, that, for example, gamers seek to humiliate the dead by dancing on their "dead" bodies, desecrating them (known by the sexual term, "teabagging") to gain points, health and extra armaments.

Games have adrenaline, excitement, but not fear, grief, total loss, pain, physical effort. The choices are different- carry on for points or switch off (as opposed to jail for desertion, losing pay or your income or firing squad or German machine gun), losing a game has little real, long term effect on the player or their families, or personality, or in changing life experiences. No one is left to grieve over the pixels. No one has to heal broken pixels.

There is nothing teaching today's generation of tekked up children what the death of Ginger taught me. Or the court-martialling and death by firing squad of Thomas. Or soldiers ordered to leave the dug out at 30 second intervals to be executed. Were is the anti-war counter to the glorification and celebration of war our society throws at young people? Where is the counter to the language of "Heroes," "Brave," etc? The counter narrative of "conscript," "forced over the top," "economic conscript," "court-martialled by firing squad," ruined lives?" Where is the emotion? The teaching about the "lives" within their pixelated, sped up, adrenaline heightened world of machismo? Real back stories? Their worth? The realities of the theatre of war? Those left behind? The sudden loss of a life -and that it is gone forever?

My comic friend survives the battles, but not untouched. Not like Major Easy, or Lord Peter Flint, with antics and near super human daring do, but with luck. He is shot, trampled in the dirt, near to death and suffers the horrors of memory loss and "Shell Shock."

My last memory of my Great Grandfather was sitting in a pub having food. My Great Gran had not long died. He looked sad, but was chirpy, positive, as he always seemed to be. There, I knew at that time he had shrapnel in his body. I remember staring at him, while the adults spoke, and trying to think what he knew. What he had seen. Had he seen what Charley had seen? And I recognised there was still a silence. A holding back of all he felt. A generation of emotions suppressed. And a suppression of emotions passed down as the normal way to live, which was not intended.

And I know of other relatives now, their stories still to emerge. Thomas went to war with three brothers. One of them, Alexander, the youngest, never returned. Another family wrecked, struggling with loss.

James Scott met George Hackney, a sniper, who's photos of James were found by Mark, and then Hackney's and James's stories were unravelled by Mark and the BBC. Click HERE to see an excerpt from "The Man Who Shot the Great War."

In a letter dated 12/2/17 when Hackney was home on leave,  a comrade writes from the front:

“…Yes it was very sad about Jimmy Scott. We had just relieved and he went into the dug-out for something when a shell went clean through killing him immediately.”

James relaxing in the dug-out where he met his death?

Five children without a dad. A wife left to struggle with emotion and money. And other, mentally smashed men thrown into a society that could not listen.

Mark brought James story to me. And in my mind, the world James saw, beyond the photos (though some of the photos are of dreadful, truthful, alien scenes of death), are the scenes so skillfully researched and rendered by teachers, educators, counter narrative, honest, Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun. The violence shown in their weekly graphic novel showed the repercussions. It showed the futility of it all and the violence of imperialism.

Graphic Wilfred Owen.

Their work should be on the curriculum.

The one with more politics...

... and great music!

Another podcast I put together for the SSP

This week on the SSP Podcast, we have members from SSP Glasgow Central Branch on Zero Hours Contracts; wages in the NHS and Don McKeen with an invite to what sounds like a really interesting talk at the Yes Bar - details on Facebook HERE, Jenni Gunn speaking about every day sexism, Beinn Irbhinn on aspects of our socialist language, Wendy MacDonald on the SSP policy of the citizen’s income and as the SSP does not claim to have a monopoly on socialism -  Debra Torrance from the SNP on sustainable energy and hot tubs!

The Music this week is really exciting.  We have tracks by David RovicsJames King and the Lone Wolves, local band TravelCat whose twelve Bar blues you can hear in the background at the start , folk rock singer songwriter Suzen JuelMilton Star and an exclusive track from Socialist R&B band, Thee Faction from their new album, Reading Writing Revolution,  which is still being recorded.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Jogging Jim and the Patriotic Imperial Masters...

My latest SSP Podcast!

In this podcast: SSP Spokeswoman, Sandra Webster on her experiences of being a carer in Tory ruled Scotland, me on the patriotic fracking nonsense of the labour party, Lewis Akers on being a young SSP activist and Tommy Ball with this weeks political round up. 


Roy Moller from his  latest album, My Week Beats Your Year, on Stereogram recordings -  “Captivity.”
The Cathode Ray – “Resist” and Vatersay Love Song – “St Christopher,” also on Stereogram recordings.

Joe Solo - No Pasaran (The Ballad of Jack Atkinson) And his track with Rebekah Findlay – We will be free

The Wakes, “These Hands.