Monday, 22 April 2013

The sun shines on the righteous

I've written in these pages before about the joy experienced when getting together with a substantial chunk of my mates to celebrate the wedding of two of them, and I was privileged to be invited to another such occasion on Saturday.

Set just outside Sudbury, in the heart of Gainsborough country (which, while still far from being in full leaf, was appropriately bucolic and entirely beautiful), this was a day when it finally felt like spring had arrived in all its glory. After what's felt like six months of unending grey and dreary cold - hang on, let's rephrase that - after what has been six months of unending grey and dreary cold, the sun warmed us nicely from an azure sky as the guests were taken to the venue on an old Routemaster. (Number 159 no less, the route home for me down to Streatham; so kind of the bride and groom to think of us south London dwellers in such a fashion when they must have been busy!)

A cracking venue, marvellous food - as I said on the night, never before in my life have I seen too much dessert, I wasn't even sure such a thing was possible - and the couple picking up the tab for the drinks all night, all combined to make this a most convivial occasion. One thing, though. No matter how beautiful the weather, no matter how lovely the setting, no matter how much fine food and booze, these things are only as good as the people which complete the occasion. And what very, very fine people these are.

As I've often said on here, I genuinely think I'm ridiculously fortunate to find myself surrounded by such good people, and privileged to call them my friends. That two of them should be kind enough to invite me and so many others to their wedding is humbling and gratifying, as was the kindness and cordiality of their families, the joy in the best men's speech and the general atmosphere of goodwill in the whole thing. I joked on these pages after the stag do that the stag (now the husband, of course) was batting way above his average, but the truth of the matter is of course that these are both people of the very, very finest qualities.

That I got so pleasantly blotto*, saw those two outstanding people get married and spent the evening in the company of most of my closest friends left me counting my lucky stars once again. I wish the new Mr and Mrs M all the very best.

*Rumour has it that I was seen front and centre, singing loudest, into the early hours at the post-reception sing-song. I can only, in response to those rumours, quote the groom's own speech, as he introduced the best men, fearful of the contents of their forthcoming address. "Filthy, lying mouths..."

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

In the horse's mouth

Last weekend, a few football fans in the north and south of England decided to do their bit for the stereotype of us all as snarling, atavistic, violent neanderthals, with trouble in both London and Newcastle. A few Millwall fans at Wembley decided they'd have a bit of a scrap amongst themselves, no doubt eliciting a rolling of eyes among the thousands of peaceful Millwall supporters all too used to being seen in that light regardless of the facts of the matter, while old enemies Sunderland and Newcastle did the dance of the thousand fists on the streets around town in the north-east.

(On that, Sunderland and Newcastle fans could easily identify each other from their shirts, but how did the Millwall fans know who to hit and who was hitting with them? Did somebody nip off to the gents' and knock up a few quick flags on bog paper, improvised heraldry for the idiot few to tell themselves apart? That'll baffle me for some time...)

Anyway, one individual has quickly become the 'icon', if that's the right word, for this display of first-class fuckwittery. 45-year-old Barry Rogerson has learned quickly that it's one thing to go around hitting fellow football fans, but it's quite another to punch a police horse. This nation of animal lovers does not take too kindly to that sort of thing, and our Baz has quickly found his name, age and former occupation plastered all over our beloved press.

This piece in the Express is particularly magnificent, encapsulating perfectly both the utterly moronic childishness of his actions, and the press's gleeful, pious response to it. Mr Rogerson has evidently realised how badly his actions have played out to a British public which probably has a regard for, and relationship with, animals which is unique in the world. If his taking part in the disorder in the first place was childish, his rapid backing-away from his actions subsequently makes him sound even more like an eight-year-old kid trying to pull the angelic innocent act in front of a sceptical parent.

"I'd like to apologise to the horse... ," he says. Only in Britain would this not sound utterly bonkers - I'm quite sure the horse is ready to shake hooves and put the whole thing behind them. Then this, from his wife, which is probably the best line in the whole piece: "He normally never goes out anywhere without me. I let him out once by himself and look what happens." See, officer? He's just a kid who got too excited, threw up his jelly and ice cream and then had a hissy fit, lashing out when the party broke up. So he faces a wrathful public, probably a wrathful wife, and will soon face the judgement of the law. Bet he's pleased he went to that game.

As a football fan myself, and despite not having anything violent or anti-social in my past to answer for in that regard myself, I feel the need to redress the balance a bit. We fans face enough mistrust and disdain from people outside the game as it is without Mr Rogerson and those like him doing their bit for the negative stereotypes. I'd urge you, if you have time, to read this, and this, or just type 'football fans charity' into Google and have a look at what comes up. The huge majority of us are just people, doing many more good things overall than bad, just like the rest of the population. If anything, the common bond and understanding of support, of any team, makes it easier for us to come together and act in unison where there's a need.

Most fans are mortified when they see this sort of stuff, so please don't go thinking that the photo of Barry Rogerson, face covered, punch mid-swing, which so many people have seen (and had confirm their opinion of football fans) is in any way typical of us.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

InkTears of happiness

Bit of a deserved plug for a friend of mine, this – Michael Scott Thompson, a writer with a bit of success in competitions behind him already, has picked up another prize. His story True Colours has picked up the runner-up gong in this year's InkTears short story competition. I've read it and can strongly recommend it as worth a read when they publish the prize winners in May.

Congratulations once again, Mike.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The witch is dead. Ding dong?

I have a difficult line to tread on this one. If I'd written this 15/20 years ago, this would have been an ill-considered and exuberant celebration of the death of a woman who polarised opinion then, and who continues to do so now. I've read hagiographic, fawning praise and open celebration of her passing today, with very little in between. But, oddly, the moment I was told of Margaret Thatcher's demise, I felt nothing. No sense either of vindictive happiness or sadness at her passing. This is, you'd think, a reasonably normal response to learning of the death, at an old age, of somebody you never knew.

This was not, though, if you grew up in Britain when I did, a woman you didn't know, at least in some form. You certainly knew of the effects of her policies - you could see it everywhere. Millions unemployed, the emasculation of the union movement, the complete abandonment of Liverpool, the selling off of the UK's major nationalised industries, her disgraceful protection of Pinochet - I could go on. Worst, for me was the fundamental change of mindset which her economic policy engendered in Britain. The deregulation of the banks and the promotion of an attitude that money was everything, that a social conscience and a sense of social responsibility could be sacrificed in the pursuit of money. That's what most effectively encapsulates the damage her dogmatic pursuit of her ideology did to us, for me. (I realise that, for many, the worst thing her government did was Clause 28, but I would argue that it's her economic policy, with Lawson at no.11, that has had the most lasting impact, done the most damage. We're still reaping what she sewed then today).

So fundamental was the change in British attitudes that the Labour Party had to move miles to its right to make itself electable again - the idea of socialism, even in a modern form, was anathema to people who were earning hundreds of thousands, and borrowing up to seven times their salary for a mortgage they'd learn to regret later, when the 'bust' part of Thatcherism's boom/bust economics inevitably rolled round.

Her political ghost, her influence, hung around the Tory party right up to the modern day - maybe it still does. She may only have died this morning, but her phantom presence could obviously still be felt guiding the minds of the more right-wing, patrician elements at Conservative HQ from the day she resigned back in 1990 'til now.

I've read that, regardless of one's views on her politics, she deserved respect for being a genuine and committed politician, who had the strength of conviction to stand up for what she believed in totally, and who blazed a trail for women in politics. I'd say that, in fact, both of those things only serve to further damn her from the perspective of the present day, looking back. For years afterwards, women in frontline politics in Britain, particularly on the Tory side, were compared to her. This is not a comparison I'd want making, were I a woman entering politics, even if I were a Tory, because of the antipathy Thatcher engendered in many people. People would wonder if a female Tory was 'another Thatcher', rather than considering them for their own merits. And in an effort to appear completely unlike her, we ended up with the supposed opposite, 'Blair's Babes', a ghastly byword for all that was wrong with latter-day Labour's style-over-substance politics and a completely damnable reduction of those women's abilities.

And those powerful convictions of hers were, ultimately, among the things which brought her down. She was utterly incapable of contemplating a change of course - remember 'the lady's not for turning'? She held so true to her word that Thatcherism became a byword for dogmatism, and ultimately brought her into conflict with even her most loyal colleagues. She couldn't face the prospect of bending, even slightly, to the views of others. Geoffrey Howe, a Tory I do have the utmost respect for, perhaps delivered the coup de grace. Delivering his resignation speech to a packed and silent Commons, he made it clear that her intransigence over Europe (she was almost fanatically, paranoically anti-European, politically speaking) had driven a fatal wedge between them. He said:

"The conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my Right Hon. friend the Prime Minister – and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real – and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great. I no longer believe it possible to resolve that conflict from within this Government. That is why I have resigned. In doing so, I have done what I believe to be right for my party and my country. The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long."

Under a month later, she was gone – her icy veneer finally cracking as she left no.10 in tears, clearly stunned at what she perceived as a stab in the back by her own party. In truth, they were just trying to keep the Tory ship afloat and needed a more human face, and a more flexible mind, to take over. That stubbornness is one of the reasons she's so reviled by many to this day – adherence to policy and the free market was more important than people, and anybody even slightly on the left of the political spectrum will never understand or forgive that, nor the fact that there are unsettling echoes of it in Cameron's Government.

So while I may not feel the sense of grim joy that may have been the case when I was younger, I can't say I feel any sense of loss at her death either. That she left an indelible mark on British society is unarguable, but that mark is a horrible, dark stain which reeks of money. I signed a petition set up to try to help prevent her being given a State funeral, a petition which was opened while she was still alive. I didn't do that out of any ghoulish desire to see her die - that's how strongly people feel about her, how strongly I felt about her. So while I may be treading that line more carefully than would once have been the case, and would certainly join in the condolences to her family, who have lost a mother and grandmother after all, I'm still standing fairly solidly on one side of it.