“Stated quite simply, this wider significance, as I call it, consists in the fact that this is one more proof that everything that looks like a forgery, or can credibly be alleged to be one, actually is one.” – Claud Cockburn
Clearing out my mother’s stuff, sifting it for clues to the past.
A lot of unsaleable old brown furniture, some antique glassware (mostly chipped) and C19th crockery (ill-matched, also mostly chipped), kitchen-stuff for the charity shop, ‘smokers requisites’, a large pile of 78 rpm gramophone dance records and three large wardrobes full of vintage and couture dresses, I find as well boxes and drawers and suitcases stuffed with:
An amazing collection of old playbills, theatre programmes, scripts and publicity photos, press reviews (mostly favourable), letters, postcards, holiday snaps of unknown places, maybe unsuspected menfriends – a hundred-and-one tiny photos of ancestors whose identities I can only guess at – my Greek family picnicking on the beach, circa 1920 – 30 years’ worth of bank statements, an entire shopping bag full of used-up chequebooks, everyone’s birth and death certificates, decrees absolute, photos of my grandfather aged 18 in 1916, in his RNVR uniform – his certificate of competence (he was a signaller) – my mother’s 1944 call-up papers, photos of her travels here and there as a child, my grandmother (Red Cross) and my grandfather (RAF by this time) in their uniforms, photos of me from about age six months, every school report (embarrassing, mostly) I ever got, my A-levels certificate, one of many targets I shot to win the boys vs parents 0.22 rifle-shooting competition (age 12) in the final against Major-General Wansborough-Jones, school photos and magazines, childhood holidays with my grandparents at Maenporth Beach in Cornwall, my wedding photos, my grandmother’s wedding photos, my other grandmother’s wedding photos, my children at various ages, my mother on stage with my father at Southport repertory theatre, c. 1947, where they first met, my mother and her lifelong friend Patty Jaggard, aged about 12 in Brownies uniform, my grandfather’s swimming certificate, posing proudly with his first car, his 1939 commission as an officer in the RAF signed by King George VI and Lord Portal, his earlier promotion to sergeant, a mysterious portly character with a walrus moustache labelled ‘Uncle Charles’ (the man, not the moustache…), dozens and dozens of receipts from Bonham’s and Christie’s auctioneers listing many items of jewellery and works of art she sold like a Russian emigrée to pay the rent, a drawerful of advices and accounts and lying blandishments and demands for huge sums from crooked Lloyds insurance syndicates – investment bonds (probably spent, but who knows?) – a divorce settlement from the High Court giving her two London houses she never seemingly got to own (along with my stepfather’s hamfisted confession to having sex with a Japanese masseuse) – surprises galore, trails all leading back on themselves, creating the mysterious, once glamorous entity that was my mother; a life she never fully shared with me, so that I am now left with the near-impossible task of untangling it, as there are no surviving witnesses – she would have been 93 the next week.
It seems she never threw a piece of paper away, that carried any meaningful information or signal to the future. And yet, the key elements are both missing and present.
Like Schrödinger’s Cat, according to the documentary record that I have so far pieced together my mother died simultaneously both relatively rich and/or deeply in debt: an unpredictably entangled superposition of the fundamental particles of her life.
And among the papers, in the bottom of a lever-arch file, I find a copy of Private Eye magazine, the satirical journal founded in 1962 by, among others, my uncle; a yellowing New Year issue dating from January 1967.
As we move across the invisible boundary between 2016 and 2017, exactly fifty years on, it’s this I want to write about now.
Lies, damned lies and history
Because through all the heavy-handed satire and wonderful jokes (the young writers had yet to find a consistent voice, which was part of its charm) my favourite Bill Tidy cartoon (where the ship’s captain bravely tells the giant Swedish cook who has gone berserk in the galley: ‘Give me that egg-whisk, Svensson!’), the brilliant Willie Rushton cartoon (Bucolic Tory grandee being served by clumsy topless waitress, pompously complains: ‘Waiter, there’s a mammary gland in my soup’), it is quite remarkable how nothing has changed in the past fifty years.
Nigel Farage Ambassador to Washington, with a peerage?
“Mr Reginald Paget, Socialist, QC, yachtsman, Old Etonian… has been a constant critic of Her Majesty’s (Labour) Government ever since it achieved power in October 1964. He has never been offered any post in that government, but he was on the original list for a high honour in this year’s New Year Honours. However, his attacks on Mr Wilson mounted in indignation and ferocity to such effect that the Prime Minister was forced to revise his honours list and remove the name of Reginald Paget.”
Southern Rail? Top Shop cleaners?
“The National Union of Railwaymen, led by suave, complacent, well-dressed, well-paid Sidney Greene (…recently given a fat pay rise…) employs a number of clerks, typists and secretaries at… its London HQ. …They do not belong to a union catering specifically for clerical staff… (but) are persuaded to join the NUR. So what happens when these unfortunates want a pay rise? Well, they approach their union (the NUR). And their union approaches their employers (the NUR). With somewhat predictable results.”
Thomas Cook’s holiday cockups?
A story about a villa hire company in London concerns a woman who pays £110 for a three-week holiday on Ibiza (in the days when you could still ‘holiday’ on Ibiza without being puked on by foul-mouthed yobbos) but finds she’s been double-booked and there’s no hire car. She and her husband are shoved into a grotty hotel for a week, complaining of ‘bad Spanish food’, before ending up in a different villa a mile from the beach, with broken furniture and contaminated salty drinking water, and the substitute hire car explodes. The travel firm of course refuses to pay compensation. (The joke being that Tory leader, Ted Heath has just booked his holiday with the same firm.)
And the ‘Post-truth’ politics of today? The Russian hacking interference possibly aiding Trump’s triumph?
I can do no more than refer you to a brilliantly ironic piece of writing in the issue by the incomparable Claud Cockburn. Forgive me for quoting at some length. I need, first of all, to explain the story of the ‘Zinoviev Letter’. Who better then than our friends at Wikipedia (to whom I have sent a generous donation of £10 for Christmas) to summarise (edited extract):
The “Zinoviev letter” was a controversial document published by the Daily Mail four days before the general election in 1924. It purported to be a directive from the Communist International in Moscow to the Communist Party of Great Britain. … The letter seemed authentic at the time but historians now believe it was a forgery. It called for intensified communist agitation in Britain. Historians now agree that the letter had little impact on the Labour vote. However, it aided the Conservative Party in hastening the collapse of the Liberal party that led to the Conservative landslide. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinoviev_letter)
Cockburn’s piece concerns an interview in the Sunday Times with the widow of one of the men who forged the letter. “It is quite a tribute to something or other that it has taken only 42 years to find that what we knew all along was the case is, in fact, the case” writes Cockburn, acidly.
“But although a couple of weeks have passed since the widow Bellegarde’s bulletin was issued, very few people seem to have grasped its wider significance. Stated quite simply, this wider significance, as I call it, consists in the fact that this is one more proof that everything that looks like a forgery, or can credibly be alleged to be one, actually is one. Once get a firm grip on that, and much that has previously been obscure, bizarre-seeming, or plain stinking becomes crystal clear and susceptible of ready explanation.
“Already, as an all-too complacent public passes, like a doomed sleepwalker attempting to raid his mental refrigerator in search of yet more illusion, from 1966 to 1967, the sinister experts – gnawing like diseased beavers at the grassroots of our very society – are laying their plans for the year ahead. It very, very definitely behoves each and all of us here today (assuming we are not gone tomorrow) to be on the qui, as never before, vive. For already, in little known backrooms up and down the country, and also in towns and cities, the forgers and fabricators are forging and fabricating their monstrous wares.
“Fight, fight and fight again … For nothing could do more to undermine international confidence in our very being and future as a nation, than for these forgeries to be accepted as genuine; and thus spread abroad the destructive and disgraceful notion that the country is being led blindfold to the dogs by a herd of Gadarene swine.”
(©Pressdram Ltd, 1967)
Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose, as the foreigners say. History evidently does repeat itself. What held for the dishonest interference of the ‘ur-Alt-right’ – the future Hitler-admiring Daily Mail of Lord Northcliffe – in a British election in 1924, and the ‘stinking’ corruption as Cockburn saw it of politics in 1964, the year that brought the slippery Labour technocrat Wilson to power, holds all too true today.
You’re being fucked over by liars of immense wealth, ambition and cunning, America.
Fight for your – and our – freedom.
07 January, and a story gone viral on the Alt-right Breitbart website that a mob of a thousand Muslim immigrants chanting allahu akbar! had set fire to Germany’s ‘oldest Christian church’ on New Year’s Eve has been dismissed by Dortmund police as a total fabrication, based on a report of a small fire started by a firework, that caused no damage to the church – which is not ‘Germany’s oldest’.
That might be something we could ignore if the founding editor of Breitbart, Mr Stephen K Bannon, had not just been appointed as Mr Trump’s chief policy adviser.
It ranks with the Pizzagate hoax, that ran with increasing hysteria over several sites including Reddit and 4chan falsely claiming the FBI had uncovered emails showing Hillary Clinton was part of a child sex ring based in a Washington pizza restaurant (for full account visit http://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/fever-swamp-election?utm_term=.yhe8mWqx0#.ppQZ3K10M). A gunman later arrested at the scene said he was just checking the story for himself.
To cheer you up, a (presumed genuine) Classified ad from the Eye of January 1967, of a kind we may never again see in our lifetimes:
PRIVATE SECRETARY. Crackpot inventor/writer living in nicer half of Lancs., offers post of personal assistant residential or otherwise, to some charming young lady, preferably skilled at driving and shorthand, interested in animals, swimming and witchcraft. Box No. 1932.
Just a Mo
The knighthood awarded to Mohammed Farah in the New Year Honours list has predictably attracted a stinking deluge of the most unutterable racist gutter-slime imaginable, even on The Guardian website.
It’s true, Farah is an immigrant. A refugee. Oh dear. He arrived here from wartorn, starving Somalia when he was eight. He’s now 31. Since then, draped extensively in British flags and fathering several British children, almost a caricature of the superpatriot, ‘the Mobot’ has gone on to make sporting history, winning both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at successive Olympic games.
Few will forget the Rio 10,000, when he tripped and fell but got up in true gritty British fashion and went on to win, despite the machinations of a bunch of Kenyan athletes who tried to force the pace and freeze him out. His emaciated physique attests to hundreds and thousands of hours of self-sacrifice and training. He dedicates his many victories to his adopted country. And now, having announced his impending retirement next year – he plans to concentrate on the Marathon – it is certainly appropriate that he should be honoured in this way, more than some Conservative party donor cunt.
True, he lives – one hopes only temporarily – in the USA. That’s because UK training facilities for distance runners aren’t so great, especially in winter. And, we recall, the also newly ennobled Sir Andy Murray, 29, who has had the one really successful year as our leading tennis champion since Fred Perry, again winning at Wimbledon (still the only tennis championship in the world, as far as British journalism is concerned), a second Olympic gold and wrested the world Number One spot from an out-of-form Novak Djokovitch, not only lives and trains in Miami in the winter, but casually received his BBC ‘Sports Personality of the Year’ award relaxing at poolside, USA.
Personable, chirpy Farah didn’t even make it into the top three, being beaten to second and third places by an elderly dressage rider (white) who’d recovered from cancer to win gold in Rio, and a little-known triathlete (also white) who stopped while winning a race to rescue his brother, who had collapsed with exhaustion short of the finish line somewhere. Jolly brave efforts, but really?
“…he is the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in both the 5000 m and 10,000 m. He is the second athlete in modern Olympic Games history, after Lasse Virén, to successfully defend the 5000 m and 10,000 m titles. Farah also completed the double at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in (respectively, Moscow and Beijing). He was the second man in history to win long-distance doubles at successive Olympics and World Championships, and the first in history to do the quadruple-double…. Farah is the European record holder for the 1500 m, 10,000 m, half marathon and two miles, the British record holder for the 5000 m, the European indoor record holder for 5000 m, the British indoor record holder in the 3000 m and the current indoor world record holder for the two miles.
“He is the most decorated athlete in British athletics history.”
(Oh, and he won the Great North Run in 2016. Ed.) – Wikipedia entry
It seems to demonstrate that good ol’ British Value of not wanting to be too welcoming to foreigners, especially successful ones.
The year 2016 thus marked a watershed in British tolerance of multiculturalism and genuine talent. From now on, if you can self-identify as white working-class you can be complete crap at everything, as poorly educated, illiterate, ugly, useless, badly dressed, over-illustrated and hopeless as you like. You can live on State handouts and the proceeds of minor crime, trolling actual humans from your piss-stained, pay-nothing-now, sale-bargain sofa, drink massive quantities of cut-price Buckfast cider, jettison the contents of your car ashtray and a jumbo KFC chicken ‘bucket’ all over my driveway, get to the third round of X-Factor on no talent whatsoever, despise educated people, beat up foreigners in the streets, spend your holidays having semi-conscious public sex in a pool of vomit in a Balearic Island gutter, get a criminal record for affray and forty unpaid parking tickets; it doesn’t matter, you’re a member of a superior species today, buddy.
The age of the pallid, tattooed ignoramus – the British – has finally dawned.
The barbarians are inside the gates.
It’s fascism, Jim – and very much as we know it.
Yes folks, just as the Republican Congress has voted to abolish the independent ethics committee that provides oversight of minor things like government corruption and secret lobbying (vote later rescinded in the face of public outcry), so Donald’s Dirty Dozen can get away with any ripoff they damn well like, comes the news that dentists in the UK want Britain’s Bosses to ban cake in the office.
That’s right, apparently the traditional office birthday celebration is so immoral, antisocial and deleterious to well-being, leading to dental caries, gumboils, obesity, sexual antics in the stationery cupboard, banking collapse and, no doubt, death, that:
“People should cut down on eating cake and biscuits at work as it adds to obesity and poor oral health”, according to the Faculty of Dental Surgery (what that? Ed.) ‘Professor Nigel Hunt said the UK needed “a culture change” at work’ (BBC News).
Not to be outdone, the rest of the Royal College of Surgeons – those who aren’t still off with a hangover – has weighed in with its New Year’s tuppence-worth:
Professor Hunt, dean of the faculty at the Royal College of Surgeons, said it may be a case of managers wanting to reward staff, colleagues wanting to celebrate or people bringing presents back from their holidays that sees sugary snacks going into the workplace.
But he said it was detrimental to employees’ health and they should make a New Year’s resolution to “combat cake culture” in 2017. (BBC News)
You know what, guys?
That’s right, you can take your certificates down off the wall and fuck the hell right off. We’re having cake, okay?
We’re The Resistance.
I just bought a pack of five chocolate-orange-filled donuts for lunch, so screw you, Hunt. But look… the Morrison’s own-brand ‘Market Street’ pack is now covered in a brightly coloured Union flag design!
Thus it begins.