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Hope and Humbuggery: a Christmas tantrum.

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This sucks.

I’ve just arrived back from my mum’s place and been greeted with a bollocking HUGE gas bill that we have only a slim chance of paying, plus a plumbing system that’s still buggered to the tune of having to wash my hair and essential parts in the sink, with a saucepan. All this, and scrabbling to prepare for a parental visit: clean, fumigate, hide the S’M posters, hide the ashtrays, hide the kingskins, hide our same-sex partners, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll make 2009 intact.

At this most magical time of the year, I truly pity the undeserving souls who work in call centres. Having been on the line to a dogged unresponsive pissed-off hack for half an hour, you could hear a festering note of impending armaggedon in the weary British Gas man’s voice when he asked if he could keep me informed of any new products and services.

Talking of festering Armageddon, does anyone else feel like we’re approaching the end times?

Maybe it’s just me. But in the latter months of 2008, it’s become far less easy to be a freak in this country. The black dog of recession is crunching us in its bloody jaws and, unlike the States, we don’t have any liberal saviour preaching change who we can clutch at, whispering save us. The government is clamping down on everybody, no matter where they live or why. The poor, single parents and the mentally ill are going to suffer under the new welfare plan. The atmosphere in Whitehall is one of stunned denial, with ministers emerging over the ramparts to frantically fire desultory, mean sallies such as today’s announcement that bailiffs will be given new powers to enter debtors’ homes at will, physically restraining or pinning down the occupants if necessary.

Will Monaco and Jersey swarm with smart-suited Scrooges wearing knuckle-dusters?
Will hired muscle be sent to collect billions of pounds’ worth of debt from Britain’s richest tax-dodgers, like Philip Green? Will members of the treasury, recently found owing £645bn which my generation will have to stump up for in our middle age, be turfed out onto the street in their scanties? Nah, thought not. Once again, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable who are being targeted by this supposed people’s government, this government that promised us change, transparency, a new world order. Maybe that’s why Obamania is failing to cheer us up: we’ve heard this line before.

Meanwhile, in Vatican City a nominally celibate former Hitler Youth member in a dress has a Christmas message of goodwill and peace in our time. Yup, Ratzinger wants to defend holy heterosexuality from the despicable ‘gender blurring’ perpetrated by gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and women who don’t sit with their knees together in church:

‘We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and asks that this order is respected.

“This is not out-of-date metaphysics. It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God.”

I would like, at this point, to swallow the greater part of the Fuck The Pope tirade that was going to be my inevitable next outburst and instead point Herr Ratzinger towards the roll-call of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christian saints recently enumerated by activist scholars, amongst them Saint Joan of Arc, Saint Sebastian and ooh, wouldn’t you credit it, Saint George, patron of this blinkered isle.

I apologise for the unseasonal amount of bile and hatred in this post. Believe me, behind this cold, hard exterior twitters the pink and fluffy heart of a perpetual six-year-old who bounces out of bed at 5am on Christmas morning and dreams in sugarplums and fairy lights. But behind that is the chill adult realisation that we’re going to have to take the long road home. 2009 will be a hard, hard year, we didn’t need the IMF to tell us that. The rest of this beautiful, broken, brilliant decade is going to entail threats to socialism, liberalism and freedom of thought and action from all sides, with governments offering no quarter and giving none. Those of us brave enough to weather the distance, those of us with the strength and temerity to hold on to our liberal ideals, will need everything we’ve got to keep the hope in our heads alive.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. [Tennyson, ‘Ulysses’]

And that’s my Christmas message. Hope, if nothing else: hope, because that’s all we’ve got, that we will come through this with our sanity and our integrity, everyone: the poor, the young, the mentally ill, the geeks, the freaks, the queers and their allies, the feminists and race-activists and socialists and war protesters and those who dare to dream of a better and a fairer world. When we have nothing else but hope, we will have to find the energy from somewhere to keep on getting out of bed, keep on striving, keep on thinking for ourselves. I’m certainly going to keep on writing; I hope you’ll keep on reading. Thank you all for keeping up with this blog over the past year, and please believe me when I wish you, whatever your faith, a merry Christmas.


And the beat goes on…..

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This week, on Hiroshima day, I went to Somerset House to sit in on a debate, and during the evening I found myself sitting within three feet of a former defense secretary refusing to offer any sort of apology for his involvement in British nuclear proliferation in the 1970s.

After the talk, I walked out onto Waterloo bridge in the sticky evening mist. With my new eyes I can see all the way to Wharf Tower in the east and down to the crennelations of Parliament Square. I smoked a cigarette, and another, tossing the butts into the rolling, muddy river
underneath, like sins. Like prayers.

Unlike in poems, the river doesn’t really wash away sins. It washes them together, all the swelling, teeming crimes of this city carried away until they’re someone else’s fault, a fairy story.

That’s what nuclear weapons are, three generations on from the war crimes in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A fairy story. Think about it. 25,000 nuclear warheads exist on the planet right now, most of them 8 times the power of the bomb that dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Someone can decide that pride is more important than sense, someone could make a bad decision, someone could make a mistake, and that would be it. All human life, at the touch of a button or the clatter of a key-code. The enormity of this has become one of the salient facts of contemporary culture, a reality so huge and fucked-up that it doesn’t even register anymore, and nor does the sheer criminality of the fact that eight or nine countries possess nuclear weapons. (Yes, not everyone has nuclear weapons. Eight or nine countries still do, and many, like South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, have dispensed with the technology.)

Media silence on the matter may give the impression that nuclear politics are a hangover from the 1980s. Nothing could be further from the truth. The UK’s current project to replace the Trident missile system is going to cost upwards of £30 billion. Enough to provide free public transport for generations, enough to train and employ hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and teachers. The decision to carry out this pre-emptive replacement was taken unilaterally, with very little media fuss, around the same time that states began discussing ‘pre-emptive strike action‘ as a possibile tactic in their war on terror (please don’t ever dignify that phrase with capitals around me, ever.)

There needs to be greater media acknowledgement of the inherent criminality of nuclear proliferation and of the feasibility of global disarmament within our lifetimes. Kate Hudson, Chair of CND, who spoke at Somerset House, spoke of a ‘drumbeat’ of anti-nuclear sentiment being heard around the world. John Pilger also acknowledged that British steps towards disarmament ‘would also be heard around the world.’

What we can do, very practically, is make a conscious effort to sound back the drumbeat – as thinkers, as writers, and as voters. If no newspaper will put nuclear proliferation developments before Madeleine McCann in their line-up, let’s talk about it online. Let’s talk about it in the citizen media. Because one thing’s for sure – in the latter part of this decade as much as ever, nuclear politics is something that this generation needs to take very, very seriously indeed.


A full write-up of the debate will be live at Red Pepper soon. Meanwhile, a far superior analysis than any I could hope to bash out is up at Comment is Free now, by John Pilger. Who, incidentally and exclusively for Pennyred readers, I did manage to snatch a little one-on-one time with. A transcript of the conversation follows:

JP: Oh, dear, am I in the ladies?
PR: (washing hands) Yes, Mr Pilger. You are in the ladies.
JP: Ah! Well, er…never mind, eh?

I blame the meeja.