Friday, December 31, 2010

Roseanna by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (Vintage Crime 1965)

They were finished a half hour later. Kollberg drove quickly and carelessly through the rain but Martin Beck didn't seem nervous, in spite of the fact that driving usually put him in a bad mood. They didn't speak at all during the trip. When they pulled up in front of the house where Martin Beck lived, Kollberg finally said: "Now you can go to bed and think about all this. So long."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Starter For Ten By David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton 2003)

Walking back along the High Street after the tutorial, I see Rebecca whats-her-name and a couple of the fuckingangryactuallys that she's always hanging around with. They're thrusting leaflets into the hands of indifferent shoppers and for a moment I contemplate crossing the road. I'm a bit wary of her to be honest, especially after our last conversatron, but I've made a promise to myself to make as many new friends as possible at university, even if they glve every indication of not actually liking me very much.

'Hiya,' I say

'It's the Dancing Queen! How you doing?' she says, and hands me a leaflet, urging me to boycott Barclays.

Actually my grant money's with one of the other caring humanitarian multinational banking organisations!' I say, with an incisive wry, satirical glint in my eye, but she's not really looking and has gone back to handing out leaflets and shouting 'Fight apartheid! Support the boycott. Don't buy South African goods! Say no to apartheid! . . .' I start to feel a bit boycotted too, so start to walk away when she says, in a marginally softer voice, 'So, how ya' settling in, then?'

'Oh, alright. I'm sharing my house with a rlght pair of bloody Ruperts. But apart from that it's not too bad . . . ' I had thrown in the hint of class war for her benefit really but I don't think she gets lt, because she looks at me confused.

'They're both called Rupert?'

'No, they're called Marcus and Josh.'

'So who are the Ruperts?'

'They are, they're, you know - Ruperts', but the remark is starting to lose some of its cutting edge and I wonder if I should offer to hand out leaflets instead. After all, it is a cause I'm passionate about, and I have a strict policy of not eating South Afrrcan fruit that's almost as strict as my policy of not eating fruit. But now Rebecca's folding up the remaining leaflets and handing them to her colleagues.

'Right, that's me done for today. See you later, Toby, see you Rupert . . . ' and suddenly I find myself walking down the street side by side with her, without quite knowing whose idea it was. 'So, where're we off to now, then?' she asks, hands stuffed deep into the pockets of her black vinyl coat.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Marshmallows and bacon sandwiches

Before Santa tries to break and enter later on tonight:

  • Still the best Christmas flavoured article ever to appear in the pages of the Socialist Standard.
  • As much as I love Kirsty Pogue; Slade; Graham Parker; Greg Lake and Wizzard for their yuletide offerings, this is still the best ever Christmas song:
  • I couldn't find a proper video for The Waitresses's classic. Surely there's one out there somewhere?

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    My Man Godfrey (1936)

    Manchester, So Much To Answer Four

    It's that time of year again, people. (Cue cut and paste.)

    Anarcho-Stalinist-Wobbly-Zapatista surfer dudes The love child of Dane Bowers and Guy Garvey has the Christmas number 1, and Manchester Branch have once again issued details of the quiz from their end of year Branch social. It's the usual routine on the blog. I reproduce the quiz questions below. I place my own pisspoor answers in the comment box. Not ONE of my seven three readers - what with me just reading books and half-watching films it's been a fallow year for the blog - join in the spirit of the season by trying to supply their own answers and I then post the correct answers in the comments box at a later date.

    . . . .Oh, and I once again use a variation on the same post title that I always use for the Manchester Branch end of year quizzes because I can't think of any wittier alternatives, and this year it actually makes sense.

    Your starter for ten nine:

    1. Which song contains the following lines?


    In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,

    Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousand-fold.

    We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.

    2. How many members did the Party have at its foundation?

    3. He was born in Leeds in 1884; Kropotkin taught him to skate; Lord Alfred Douglas sued him for libel; he was the only British journalist present at the founding of the Comintern; he married Trotsky's secretary; he was an agent for MI6; he wrote a best-selling series of children's books. Who was he?

    4. Who wrote many theatre reviews for the Socialist Standard in the 1990s?

    5. Who was Dic Penderyn?

    6. Who was Philoren, and what was the title of his book?

    7. Why is Edmund Wilson's book on the background to the Bolshevik Revolution called To the Finland Station?

    8. Two people were expelled from the SDF at its Burnley conference in 1904. One was Horace Hawkins; who was the other?

    9. What happened in Tilbury on 22 June 1948?

    Get googling guessing.

    Sunday, December 19, 2010

    Bloody Confused! by Chuck Culpepper (Broadway Books 2008)

    On Saturday, December 9, 2006, on the south coast of England, not far from the English Channel, at Fratton Park, in the fourteenth minute, Kanu chased the ball nearing midfield with his back to the Everton goal. Everton's Simon Davies chased the ball from the other direction. Davies slid towards Kanu. They converged. As they headed towards opposite sides of each other from where they'd started, both touched the ball, and the ball popped upward, hard to tell just how. It floated lazily over to the right and descended towards Portsmouth's Matthew Taylor, forty-five yards from Everton's goal. Before it could hit the ground, Taylor struck it with his left foot and sent it back upward. I thought he'd struck it casually, almost goofily. I thought he'd struck it in one of those see-what-happens modes. It flew high and flew toward me as I sat in the fifth row behind my fellow American Tim Howard, manning the Everton goal. It sailed to its pinnacle and then gravity beckoned. Here it came, just beginning its descent toward Fratton Park soil, still two-thirds of the way air borne, when there came an instant that would have to rate as one of the best instants you can know upon the earth.

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    My Year in Stasis Status - 2010

    A Facebook thingy, before you ask.

    Old music, sleepless nights with the wee one and despairing at Celtic's continuing slide to second place mediocrity is a fair summation of my year.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    The Open Road (2009)

    Walkerdom

    That's a nice early Xmas present.

    A few judicious links here and there ensures that Ian Walker is at 3, 4, 5 & 6 in the blog stats charts at the time of writing. Nice to know that other people are reading his work . . . nice to know that more of his work is now online for people to discover after they finish Zoo Station, and want to find out more about him. (Which they inevitably do.)

    Is it too late for an anti X-Factor style campaign to try and Ian get the Xmas number 1? Alas, it is too late. People will insist on searching google for images of Kevin-Prince Boateng's tattoos.

    (Click the pic below to enlarge.)

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    Bogue's Fortune by Julian Symons (Perennial Library 1956)

    Maureen got up off the floor and eyed him with undisguised interest. “l’m Maureen Gardner.I'm at the school, was rather, until it finished.”

    “What are you going to do now?"

    ‘I'm leaving at the end of the week to join the Anarchist Country Community at Shovels End in Essex.”

    “Are you now?" Bogue had a gaudy tie in his hand, and he talked to her while he knotted it. “I used to be very interested in Anarchism when I was a young man. In fact, l'll tell you a secret, I spoke on Anarchist platforms in Glasgow just after the war, that was the First War, you know. I was a red-hot revolutionary then, hot as you are now, I expect. Trouble with Anarchism, I found, was it’s against human nature. In a small group, yes, providing you’re all idealists, Anarchism's fine, answers all the problems. In a feudal society-well, yes, it’s still got some kind of answer. But once you get labor-saving machines, motor-cars, airplanes, not to mention all the bombs we’re inventing to save civilization, what can Anarchists do but settle down in country communities at Shovels End?" Bogue turned round and appealed to her, his arms spread wide, his face serious.

    Maureen goggled at him. She had been won over, Applegate saw, won over as only a girl could be who had perhaps never been taken seriously before. “You think I shouldn’t go?”

    “Not at all,” Bogue picked up a jacket that lay on the stairs behind him, thrust his arms into the sleeves. “We learn from our mistakes, if we ever learn. But the important thing is to have the capacity for making mistakes. To anyone of your age, faced with a choice, I’d say just this. Do the daring thing, the unusual thing, don’t do the commonplace thing.”

    “Yes.” Maureen expelled what Applegate unhappily felt to be an almost reverent sigh.

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    A quiet day out at the match by Ian Walker (New Society 13 September 1979)

    The final Walker piece from The Other Britain collection.
    'A quiet day out at the match' dates from September 1979. Not the greatest time for either Leeds and Chelsea, which, perhaps, explains the bellicosity of their supporters. Shame there wasn't a 'Nick from Maidenhead' on the Arsenal away special. Now, that would have been something else.
    A quiet day out at the match by Ian Walker

    At half time a black Arsenal fan handed out Young National Front stickers. One lad on the train said he always imagined it was his Mum he was hitting when he was in a Saturday afternoon fight. A middle-class young woman who lived in Hampstead and worked for the civil service said she had been following the team home and away for seven years. The police horses wore plexiglass eyeshields and their riders had blue and white crash helmets. There were a few arrests. But as these excursions go, it was a quiet kind of day.

    It had started out at King's Cross station at 8.30 in the morning. Arsenal and Chelsea both had football specials leaving at around the same time so everyone was on their toes, needlessly as it happened. A lot of beer was being drunk, but that was mostly because you’re only allowed two cans on the train. Before we can board, Arsenal Travel Club officials, in red arrnbands, search our bags for booze and weapons.

    As we pass Alexandra Palace on our left, two of the six policemen on the train are patrolling the carriages. They stop at a table occupied by two teenagers.

    'How old are you son?'

    'Fifteen, what about it?'

    'I don't want to see you smoking'

    ’Why? It's not against the law.’

    ‘Yes it is. You have to be 16.'

    The policeman grabs the cigarette out of the boy's mouth, throws it on the floor.

    Robert had lit up again by the time I went over to talk to him and his friend Sean, who is 17. They never miss a game.

    The previous Wednesday they'd made this same journey, up to Leeds. Sean takes home £30 a week as a trainee machine setter in north London. Robert is still at school, his Mum gives him some money, and ‘Sean helps me out'. At £7.50 for the return fare to Leeds, plus £1.50 admission and then spending money, isn’t it an expensive loyalty, following Arsenal away? ‘A day out, isn’t it?’ says Robert, as we race through Welwyn Garden City station. ‘We like going to different grounds and that; getting out of London! But doesn't it mean you can’t afford to go anywhere during the week? 'We never usually go out anyway during the week, just doss around.'

    The amount of trouble you get into, Robert and Sean say, depends on the extent and the vigilance of the police protection: 'When we went to Liverpool, the cops said, "We don’t like you Cockneys. We don’t like you coming here. Find your own way to the ground." We had to walk past all these pubs with real unfriendly faces in them.’ What happened? 'We got chased down the road, didn't we?’

    In the next carriage up, John Taylor, apprentice electrician, is sitting on his own because ‘me mate broke his leg last week’. A quiet sort of bloke, John doesn’t care much for bother, but says that sometimes it’s unavoidable. 'The home supporters are always out there waiting for you. The Leeds fans'll be waiting at the station, they were last year.' Last year, john says, Arsenal were winning 1-0 when Leeds had a goal disallowed, ‘The stewards opened the gates and let all the Leeds fans in on the Arsenal. Had a big fight.’

    The violence only annoys him, ‘if there’s a good match on: if the match is boring, I don't really care.' What about those headlines describing football fans as thugs and animals. ‘They’re true,' he says.
    John has a skinhead haircut. About nine months ago I was attacked by a skinhead on a 253 bus in Camden Town. To that bloke a fight was just something which happened, and which was fun, when you were drunk. It was a bit like that for the lads from Bethnal Green whom I spoke to in an old-style BR compartment with a sliding door.

    I slide it open, explain my business. ‘Go on, I’ll buy it,’ says Perry Tomlin. This is my invitation to join them. ’We're all mods,' says Perry, jumping up from his seat and running his thumbs under the thin lapels of his Tonik jacket, which is green, changing to bronze as it catches the light. As everyone introduces themselves, Perry prefixes the description with: ‘You know, the well-known criminal.'

    Perry says he's 15 next week. ‘So he's 14,’ says Stephen Jenkins who's a trainee chef and is sitting next to Mark Brewer, an apprentice butcher. The lad in the corner of the compartment, dyed blond hair, introduces himself as ‘Jamie. This is my firm. Meet the firm.'

    His leadership is noisily disputed while Perry tells me Jamie is on the dole. Stephen passes round a black-and-silver pack of Lambert and Butler. Apprentice engineer Terry Walker, wearing a red Fred Perry jumper, refuses a cigarette and opens a window, explaining he's got asthma. ‘Against Man U last week we ran into Tottenham. I had to run into a restaurant cos I can't breathe.'

    ‘And I’m the hero,’ shouts Perry, leaping up again and beating his chest, Tarzan-style. ‘I rescued him.'

    ‘We don't look for trouble,' says Stephen. ‘But if there’s a ruck we steam in.' They proceed to
    enumerate, with a touch of pride, injuries received in the cause of Arsenal. 'I got done at Wolves, someone hit me with a bottle.' And ‘I got done bad at Liverpool, broken nose.’ And so on.

    The train pulls in at Peterborough. A Leeds fan, in the baggy trousers that disappeared from London's boutiques over a year ago, is standing on the platform. Perry is immediately up at the window, out of which he is singing, 'Where did, where did, where did you get those clothes?"

    ‘Leave it out. He’s twice your size,' says Jamie languidly from the corner. A policeman strolls up, 'C'mon lads, take your seats. Don't stir the natives up.’

    Clichés about dead-end jobs and Saturday afternoon glamour don't seem very apt when you're rolling up north on a train, everyone sitting around reading the Sun, playing cards, or gazing out of the window. But glamour, and power, is what it is all about. One day a week to see everyone running scared on the streets at the sight of you in this singing chanting wild bunch, ‘Yeah, I follow Arsenal. Wanna make something of it, mate?'

    Visiting supporters, if the balance of forces if favourable, aim to ‘take’ the end of the ground occupied by the mass of singing and chanting (young) home support. This is now the subject of conversation: ‘At Brighton we had everything and we killed ’em. Everywhere you looked was Arsenal.' But grins tum to grimaces when they recall how, every year for years now, Tottenham have taken the North Bank at Highbury.

    ‘Tottenham and Arsenal are worst rivals,’ they explain. 'Whenever there’s a local derby there's a fight! They call Tottenham fans ’yids' because, according to Terry, ‘years ago all their directors were Jewish.' And what do Tottenham call the Arsenal fans? 'Bubble and squeaks, meaning Greeks, but we ain’t,’ says Perry. 'We have a laugh, take the mickey. We don’t mind a ruck, if there's a lot with us, know what 1 mean?’

    When the balance of forces is unfavourable, it’s less fun. Jamie says: ‘At Everton last year we had to go up into the seats, there was only 50 of us. We had to leave ten minutes after half time. We was gonna get battered, we couldn’t handle it.'

    Arsenal’s real hard cases don't travel by train. Mostly, they’ve been kicked out of the Travel Club for fighting, so they charter their own buses. 'The three leaders are Denton, Legsy and Jenkins. They've all got firms [gangs] behind them. They're hard little bastards. Two hundred against 20,000 and they’ll still steam in. You can't get on the bus if you're gonna run.'

    There has been a lot of talk of violence and Mark, the trainee butcher, tries to put things in perspective: 'People think we’re mad. But we only go because we love football.'

    ‘You might as well have a laugh before you're an old closet. Enjoy yourself while you're still young. Support your team,' says Perry, who at five foot nothing rnust live more on his wits than his fists.

    'All I really work for is that,' says Terry, ‘and to keep me Mum, buy clothes.’ Perry agrees, saying, ‘We don't really know what to do on a Saturday when there’s no football. We just sit around the flats.' Apart from Terry, who now lives in Stoke Newington, these boys were all born and bred in Bethnal Green. Perry asks if I’ve heard of Bethnal Green and I nod. ‘Hardest going. They’re ruckers,’ he says.

    ‘Funny thing, Violence. . . . ' says Stephen, and I interrupt him to ask what l’d asked John Taylor, how he feels about tabloid headlines describing fans as no better than animals. 'You feel proud,' he replies. 'You think it’s really good.’ The others nod.

    But these boys are sharp, they’ve got some idea of PR, too. It's time to put me straight, time to tell me they are not obsessed with violence, and that they do understand why they grew up as they did. Stephen here becomes the spokesman:

    'We are a load of thugs, but you're brought up in Bethnal Green. You’re just walking down the street, some geezer hits you and it's a fight. You learn when you're young how to look after yourself. . . . Also, when you're a little kid and come home saying you've been beaten up, all our Mums say, "Well, hit 'em back. Stand up for yourself."'

    Jamie picks up the story: 'You got your old lady nagging you all fucking week and you can't do nothing about it. It just builds up and builds up, until it’s Saturday and you get out there. . . . . Bam.' He is standing up, eyes closed, throwing punches into thin air. ‘Bam. If I'm clocking someone, I see my old lady there.' Everyone falls silent for two seconds, respectful of that confession, and not knowing quite how to follow it. Until Jamie sits down again, laughs, so everyone can laugh.

    These lads used to be skinheads before the present mod revival, which Terry says is ‘just another trend', though one he'lI follow. I mention Sham '69, the now defunct skinheads' band, whose farewell concert was broken up by the fascist British Movement. I then find out they've all been on National Front marches, 'Well mainly on Anti-Nazi League things, running round the outside, chanting that.'

    (‘It’s just another craze,’ says Terry, wearily.)

    They've also all been to Rock Against Racism carnivals. ‘Oh, yeah, I went to Vicky Park,' says Perry. ‘Everyone went for the music anyway.' I say I don't like racists and they look embarrassed, not belligerent. 'We know some coloured geezers,' says Stephen. ‘They're all right. All except Pakis.'

    ‘What's wrong with Pakis? Don’t cause any trouble, do they?' demands Jamie.

    This gets nowhere, and l'm wondering if their families are National Front? Stephen says his aunt wasn't 'till she got robbed by blacks. But my Mum isn't NF, there couldn’t be a bigger socialist going!

    'My Mum said she was going to vote National Front, but she voted Liberal,' says Terry smiling at the absurdity of it all.

    The train stops at Doncaster station, where there are large numbers of Leeds fans. Perry, safe in the knowledge no one is getting on or off, is again yelling sartorial insults out of the window.

    Jane, the posh-sounding young woman who lives in Hampstead and works for the civil service, is sitting right at the back of the train with her two girl friends Julie Blay who's a sorter at the post office and Lynn Davis, a student Of photography. Lynn's Dad used to play for Arsenal Reserves in the 1950s. She is wearing the tight blue jeans and black suede spiked heels she'll be in tonight when she meets her boyfriend down the pub. 'Men don't like girls who know more about football than themselves,' she says. 'lt insults their vanity.'

    These three, aged between 18 and 21, have all been travelling away with Arsenal for six or seven years. 'We don't get as much hassle as the guys,' says Julie.'It's verbal abuse, but we just ignore it.' She goes on to say that at the last away game she picked up three sets of darts. 'All thrown from the seats,' she emphasises. ‘They say all the trouble starts from the terraces. But that's just not true.'

    The trouble is, in Julie's view, exaggerated by the press and often provoked by the police. 'They enjoy a good fight as much as anyone else. Also you’ve spoilt their Saturday afternoon. They're bloody well going to spoil yours.'

    Feminists, I'm saying, regard football as a macho ritual, which . . . 'Most feminists are just frustrated old bags,' interrupts Lynn. The others laugh in agreement. The train is pulling into Leeds station.

    A corridor of policemen make it plain where we have to walk. At the end of the corridor is a steel gate behind which we wait while we are searched again for weapons. Arsenal FC enamel badges are regarded as potential weapons. One middle-aged Scotsman, who has the entire Arsenal team tattooed on his chest, doesn't think much of this. ‘It's a fucking disgrace when you have to take your badges off.' Told to get our 21 pences ready, we're finally driven off in double-deckers, three policemen to each bus.

    Outside the ground a posse of riot police, on horseback, wearing blue and white crash helmets, are by the sign which has ‘Entrance for Visiting Supporters' painted in white. But it's only 12.30, kick-off is not till 3, so we all queue up for bright-red frankfurters and plastic cups of almost milkless tea. This comes to 50p.

    Over the road from the entrance, six National Front posters are stuck on an empty redbrick end-terrace. Fifty yards down the street, a billboard says ‘Wisdom. The Choice Is Yours' under a photograph of false teeth in a glass. Most of the Leeds fans haven’t arrived yet, but one struts past. On his white T-shirt is written in blue capitals: YORKSHIRE REPUBLICAN ARMY.

    The gates open at 1 p.m. We pay £1.50 and there’s one hour of sitting around smoking, playing cards, another of swapping chanted abuse with Leeds supporters, from whom we are separated on all sides by blue steel bars.

    ‘ArsenaI, where are you?' sing Leeds. There's still only the 200 or so of us who came by train. But Denton and his firm’s arrival is theatrically timed, five minutes before kick-off. Denton himself leads the charge of 100 crop-haired teenagers on to the terraces and there's pandemonium as they try to scale the barriers. Police move in, fists swing. The disturbance only lasts two minutes, but long enough for Stephen Jenkins to now point dolefully at a swollen red eye which will in time be black. A couple of Arsenal fans are escorted from the ground.

    ‘Are we all settled in now?' asks one cop, through his teeth.

    ‘Aye, I’m reet fine, lad. How are you?’ replies the Arsenal fan. It is a poor attempt at the Yorkshire accent.

    'I'm fine. Let's keep it that way,’ says the policeman, leaning over to grab the fan's arm. The rest of the exchange is drowned out in a roar signifying the game's start.

    An electronic scoreboard instructs us to 'Give Jimmy Hill a wave. We’re on Match of the Day.' Leeds sing 'Jimmy Hill's a wanker.’ Arsenal disagree. And the dialogue continues throughout the game.

    Taunts are as much about the relative merits and demerits of Yorkshire and London as they are about the two teams' past glories and humiliations. Leeds chant, 'York-shire.' Arsenal sing, 'Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner.' Both sets of supporters mimic the other’s accent. Arsenal assert that moral superiority which they feel comes from travelling to away games, being 'real supporters’. 'Do you ever go away?' they demand. Ignoring this, Leeds instead bring up the shameful defeat of the last few seasons. 'Tottenham, North Bank, Easy, easy.‘ Which gets the lame retort, 'Ea-aye-addio, we won the cup.’ Repeat.

    Leeds score a goal just before halftime and their fans sing ‘one nil’ to the tune of Amazing Grace.

    At half time, in the crush for lukewarm pies and hot Oxo, Denton is distributing Young National Front stickers. Denton is black. Members of his firm dutifully stick these messages about white youth and repatriation to their jackets. One black youth has two ‘Repatriation, Not Immigration’ stickers, one 'Fight Communism' and one 'White Youth Before Immigrants’ sticker, all affixed to the front of his anorak. The same black youth was, some two hours later, arrested at Leeds station.

    Denton, some say, is a member of this organisation, which seeks to eliminate humans of his colour from the motherland. I don't believe it. I couldn't get near enough to speak to him, but he is either playing some kind of sick joke on himself, or else the joke is on his disciples (’These dummies'll take NF stickers off a black?'). The remaining possibility is that he’s taken the goal of winning white acceptance to its ultimate, logical, and absurd, conclusion.

    Football crowds goad black players in two main ways. One is to chant 'National Front', the other is to ape the grunt of apes. Both taunts came from the Leeds fans terraces after half time, when the Leeds fans saw that Denton was some kind of leader. Arsenal’s response was first to chant 'National Front' back at Leeds, with Denton and the other half dozen blacks joining in, then to group round their leader, pointing and singing, ‘We got the hardest nigger in the land.' Denton meanwhile is doing a passable imitation of the dance the men in the Black and White Minstrel Show used to do - you know, the way they opened their mouths, stretched back their heads and shivered splayed-out palms?

    I ask the Bethnal Green contingent about Denton’s real political preferences, but they just shrugged and laughed. For them, I suppose, black members of the NF are no more, no less, bizarre than friends from the same block of flats fighting each other on Saturdays if they happen to follow different teams.

    Leeds United v. Arsenal ended in a 1-1 draw. A lot of us missed the Arsenal goal because it was just after half time and we were still in the pie queue.

    The only time the chanting had got really venomous was when Arsenal were awarded a penalty.

    ‘You're gonna get your fucking heads kicked in,' we were told, at high volume, a few thousand index fingers pecking in our direction. Just as well the penalty was missed. A home defeat brings violent revenge. As it was, Leeds fans couldn’t be bothered hanging around outside until the lock-up period was over: visiting supporters are confined to the ground till most of the home crowd have dispersed.

    When our gates finally did open, police herded us back on to the buses, back into the same walled-off section of the station we'd been kept in on the way up, until the train was ready to leave platform 12.

    Once on the moving train I thought we were safe. This, apparently, was not the case. A steward came round telling us to draw the curtains (it was now a beautiful late summer’s late afternoon), just in case any bricks were aimed at the windows.

    Conversation turned to the possibility of clashing with Chelsea at King's Cross. We were due back at 8.45 p.m., but our train was late. Chelsea's was due back at 9.15 and there was no telling whether they were on time. 'They’ve come all the way down from Newcastle, they’ll be half pissed and they lost too. They'll be just in the mood for some aggravation,' said a tattooed veteran of these excursions.

    This man, probably in his mid-thirties, then went on to recount adventures he and his mate had in Amsterdam, when Arsenal played Ajax. Everyone showed polite interest.

    Most of the train were either asleep, trying to sleep, or playing cards. Stubble being burned on the fields outside Peterborough looked dramatic in the dusk; beautiful if you like that kind of thing. The man with the tattooed arms was now telling another anecdote: a mate of his had acquired a square yard of the Highbury turf after an offer in the local paper. This was a few years back, when the old pitch was taken up to build an underground heating system as protection against snow and ice. This man's mate had given the square yard pride of place in his garden, in the middle of the flowerbed and away from the rest of the lawn. Even the man with the tattoos thought this was going a bit far, especially as the square, he told us, was now faded and bare.

    Chelsea were nowhere in sight at King’s Cross. just as well for the lads from Bethnal Green: they had a party to go to. The three girls rushed off to their dates. The man with the tattooed arms reckoned he could go and get an Indian takeaway and still be home in time for Match of the Day. One more Saturday night.
    13 September 1979

    Simon's Cat in Santa Claws

    Whilst I try to locate my mp3 of Graham Parker's 'Christmas is for Mugs', and as recommended by Owen:

    Check out more snippets at the official Simon's Cat website

    Hat tip to Tami over at Facebook.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    ‘The most abused and pilloried community in the world’ by Ian Walker

    As promised, another Ian Walker essay from Paul Barker's edited collection, The Other Britain.

    This essay dates from July 1981 and, alongside his 'Anarchy in the UK' article, it's my favorite piece of his from the book.

    I'll post his final essay from the collection, 'A quiet day out at the match', in the next day or two.


    ‘The most abused and pilloried community in the world’

    by Ian Walker

    He is 42, but looks much older. He sits in the front room chain-smoking, head turning from the television to the window whenever a car or a pedestrian passes by this two-up two-down terrace in east Belfast. Bill Baxter is in the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association. He's done time in Crumlin Road jail for gun-running, and there have been three attempts on his life.

    His wife, Judith, a Catholic from the Falls Road, is in the kitchen making bacon and eggs for tea. Their son, aged 10, is out collecting firewood for the Protestant bonfires that will be lit the night before 12 July, the day of the Orange procession.

    Bill is a semi-skilled engineer at Harland-Wolff shipyard. He was a shop steward up till a year ago. But he's taken the last three weeks off to work in the UDA headquarters on the Newtownards Road. The Ulster news is over. He turns off the television.

    It was some years ago that he received the framed scroll, black and white except for an orange blob at the bottom corner, which hangs on the wall. When he became master of his Orange Lodge he was still living in Suffolk, a Protestant enclave off Andersonstown in west Belfast. Before internment in 1971, about 5,000 Protestants were living on that estate. Now there are about 500.

    'Can you tell me what this means, troops out?' he says, jumping up from his seat and brushing the cigarette ash from his old brown suit. 'Did people ever want the troops out in two world wars? Ulster lost 50,000 men in the battle of the Somme. Five out of seven generals in the last war were Ulstermen.'

    His face is all lined and taut with despair, till he wipes the grey hair out of his eyes, relaxes the muscles, and tells a story which, he says, probably isn't true, but seems to get truer as the years go by:

    'The story is that the Pope, as Italy sort of gets more communist, wants eventually to come here to Ireland . . . I don’t know. l'm not a good Protestant to be truthful with you. I'm more anti-communistic.'

    Judith walks in with the bacon and egg. She is 39. Her hair falls long down her back like a schoolgirl’s. Her face, like Bill’s, shows signs of the travails. It is thin and pinched.

    She grew up behind a police barracks on the Lower Falls, and learned to shoot by watching the local cop giving firearm training to his sons. She's worked in factories, a draper’s, a shoe shop. After her family went to London, for a spell, to work in a hotel, she was a chambermaid. She met Bill in a cinema queue on the Falls Road.

    No one told Judith, when she was a teenager, that her mother was dying of cancer. She later discovered her father had been having an affair with another woman throughout her mother's illness. As soon as she died, the father re-married. He now lives in west Belfast with his two teenage children. Judith hasn't seen him in twelve years.

    ‘I was never that good a Catholic, so I wasn't,' she says, pouring out the tea. After her mother died, she ran away with Bill to London. They got married in Stoke Newington registry office.

    Robert walks in. He only got one chair for the bonfire. This afternoon he brought home his school report: he came seventeenth out of a class of 32. Bill says that there are other things that are important, apart from academic ability.

    The Protestant working class has been used to its boys taking up apprenticeships at 16. Education, before the current recession anyway, wasn't a priority.

    When Robert, their only child, has finished playing his latest single - Embarrassment by Madness - Bill rises from his chair. He has a single he wants to play, too, by Johnny Johnson.

    To the tune of Amazing Grace, and with a choir of schoolgirls doing the chorus, it is a spoken lament for the abolition of Stormont, the disarming of the police, and other Westminster betrayals, together with a call for Ulstermen to fight back.

    'This sort of sums up how I feel about things,' Bill says, sucking the smoke past his few remaining yellow teeth.

    The Baxter dog, a dalmatian which is kept outside for protection 24 hours a day, starts barking. Bill always answers the door. He gets up, his face screwed up, pulling at his clothes, coughing. ‘He doesn't know who it is at the door,’ says Judith.

    The stranger knows someone Bill knows. He is let in to use the telephone. When he's gone, Bill washes his face in the kitchen sink. There‘s no wash basin in the house, just a shower that Bill built out into the backyard.

    His hair combed, Bill is waiting now for Louis to show up. ‘Did you know Louis was coloured?' he says. ‘Out of between thirty and forty thousand members of the UDA, there’s just two that's coloured - Louis and one other.'

    Born in St Lucia, Louis came to Belfast when he was six, he says, as we drive down to a bar called the Oakley. He used to hang out with Prods and Fenians, and played in a Catholic football team till he was 14. 'But in Belfast you can't sit on the fence.’ At 16, Louis was intemed in Long Kesh for 18 months. He parks the car in a narrow alley and walks into the bar.

    Photographs of bulldogs, and one of the Queen, hang on the walls. There are eight men drinking (one of them in the Royal Ulster Constabulary), and one woman serving, now that the whisky-drinking barman has gone to the other side of the counter. She pours the barman another. ‘The only problem with Ulster,’ he says in a drunken slur, ‘is the Roman Catholic church. . . . There are one million Protestants being forced into a corner. The sooner we get rid of the army the better.'

    He goes on to describe how the Prods will finish off the Taigs (the Catholics), no trouble. Bill goes off for a game of pool. Underneath the UDA coat of arms by the bar is the motto QUIS SEPARABIT.

    George Best used to live just round the corner from this bar. 'Great tradition of footballers in east Belfast,' says Louis, who used to play for the Manchester United youth team in his holidays, and went on to represent Northern Ireland schoolboys. He later developed a lung disease which has made him fat. He is now, at 23, a quantity surveyor for the council.

    Back in the car, Louis drives past swastikas and National Front graffiti on the corrugated iron fringing some waste ground. His destination is a pub called the King Richard, which has stone alcoves, murals of palm trees and, in one comer, a Dean Martin crooner. The publican here, who runs bars all over east Belfast, is reputed to a millionaire. He owns a pet lion.

    'He's a good man,' Bill Says. 'lf you come in here with your electric bill he'll pay it for you, if he knows you, like. If I come round here collecting for loyalist prisoners, he'll write me a cheque for a hundred pound.'

    Louis raises his hand in greeting to the man who's just walked - Jim, who's only been out of prison for six months. Jim says he can't find work, because of his prison record. This began when he was 17, jailed for hijacking cars in the Ulster Workers’ Council general strike of May 1974, which destroyed power-sharing. The second time Jim was put away, the charge was attempted murder.

    'I was stopped by the peelers [the RUC] when I was carrying guns,' he says. He tried to shoot his way out.

    He is now 24. He keeps pretending he has a gun inside his black car-coat, plunging his hand in there and pulling it back out, gun-shaped, and firing it off with his own sound effects, like a small boy.

    'It's the only country in the world where you get locked up for fighting for your Crown' he says, turning to spit on the floor.

    When he was younger, Jim used to run around in a tartan gang, fighting other Prod tartan gangs, and sometimes going 200-strong up the Catholic Lower Falls district. 'We used to fight anyone' he says, and then looks at Louis, ‘including niggers.'

    Louis smiles and says, yes, they’ve been on opposing sides of a fight many a time. But that it's all forgotten now.

    Driving to the Ulster Arms, Louis points along a narrow street. Half the terraces down there are boarded up. The whole street is being demolished to make way for a supermarket.

    Bill sits in the back. 'We know we can’t go back to the old days,' he says; ‘to Stormont, when the Catholics were tramped on. . . . ln the UDA we're talking about getting rid of the Republicans, and then just all the ordinary Catholics and Protestants living together.' He rakes a hand through his hair. Protestants have their backs to the wall.

    On the dim-lit street, an old man can just be made out, staggering away from the Ulster Arms. 'Did you hear?’ he shouts to Louis and Bill: ‘Billy Archibald's dead.'

    Archibald used to be one of the main men in the UDA. He died this aftemoon of a heart attack. ‘lt'll be a big funeral,' Bill says, staring past his vodka and Coke.

    ‘It won't be like Bobby Sands,’ Louis says. ‘Because we don't believe in our people losing a day's pay for a funeral. Things are bad enough as they are.'

    The pub is quiet. Two other men sit in a corner watching A Town Like Alice on the television. The Ulster Arms was bombed ten years ago. ‘No one's got any money any more,’ Louis says.

    The only growth industries in Northern Ireland are security and policing: there were 4,556 men and women in the RUC in 1974, 6,659 in 1979. The Protestants still march through their town on 12 July. But every year, there are fewer and fewer bands.

    'Prods are a very private people,’ Louis says over his last vodka. 'They aren’t like the Catholics. And they never forget; they are like elephants. They never sink down roots, either. If Ulster becomes part of the Republic, then they'll fight hard, to the end, and then probably they’ll go off to some other island or country and settle there, until the same thing happens again: they'll fight and leave.'

    He drains his glass. Bill follows him out. The Ulstermen return to their wives.

    After Judith has made Bill tea and sandwiches, she sits down, and starts talking about Robert. She remembers a time when Robert and a friend found a gun in the river, and took it along to the police interrogation centre on Landas Road.

    'The boy who went along with him, his father was doing 25 years for murder. And me, with my record. So You can imagine how we felt when they came back and said,' Bill says, looking at Judith. Both of them laugh at the memory.

    Next morning, Judith is in the front room reading the Star. She's already looked at the Sun. The death of Billy Archibald, an old friend, has made her think of those old days. She can’t concentrate on the newspapers.

    After Bill was arrested, with a machine-gun in his suitcase at Aldergrove airport in 1971, the police came round to the house, and found an arsenal of six handguns. It was lucky, Judith says, that she wasn't carrying her own gun when they came round. She'd put it in the sideboard.

    She claims she was the first woman in Belfast to be ’lifted'. In the police station, she invented a story about Robert, a baby then, needing medicine every hour. It meant that when she called her friend, on the hour, she could try and get news of Bill. In the end, it was through a detective, who was in the UDA, that she discovered Bill was up on eight charges.

    His lawyer predicted that Bill would get ten years. But six of the eight counts were thrown out of court, and he got away with six months. After Ian Paisley had got her out of the police station, she moved house. She went first to Sandy Row, where Bill was raised. But she was being watched by someone, from a car that was always parked down the street, and the neighbours panicked. So she moved into a squat in Ballybean, where Billy Archibald and his sons guarded her round the clock.

    When she went to visit Bill in Crumlin Road jail one day, he told her that he'd received a death threat, and that she would have to make arrangements for the three of them to disappear. She did. The Baxters fled to London the day Bill finished his sentence.

    'I was never much bothered about Catholics and Protestants,' she says. 'lt was just when they [the IRA] threatened to shoot my son, I sort of got involved.' That was when they were all still living in Suffolk. She told Bill then she wanted to start carrying a gun. He said she didn't know how to use one, but Judith explained that she’d watched a policeman, from her backyard, teaching his sons to shoot. She'd had six miscarriages, she says, and she wasn’t going to stand by and watch her son killed.

    'l don’t much care if they do come and kill me now,' she says, sitting on the sofa, rolling another cigarette. ‘At least I've raised Robert up to a decent age. Nothing much bothers me now.'

    The only member of her own family she still sees is a brother in London. 'I’m getting the children ready for mass and my sister-in-law says, “What about you?" I say, "Don't worry about me." Some people think I'm strange. But I don't worry about much.'

    She laughs. When she's in Belfast she does the toast, Belfast-style, just on one side. When she's in London she does the toast both sides. 'You just adapt to wherever you are.'

    The next-door-neighbour, a good friend, walks in and then does a U-turn when she sees Judith isn’t alone. Prods are a very private people. This neighbour is, in Judith's phrase for ascetic,‘good livin''. She is also a devout member of Paisley's Martyrs' Memorial Free Presbyterian Church, on the Ravenhill Road, five minutes away.

    It was on the Ravenhill Road, in 1946, that Paisley began his ministry. And in 1951 it became the headquarters of the first Free Presbyterian Church. He started that church with 66 members. Its first year's income was £360. By 1969, he had a congregation of 3,400, and the church's annual income was £60,826.

    Yesterday, Judith says, her neighbour told her that Paisley had gone to the European parliament. ‘She said, "The big man's away in Europe this week. . . . And you’re to pray for him." I said, "I will not pray for him." And she said, "Oh, you shouldn't say that." So I had to say, "Oh, maybe while I'm praying for myself, I'll do one for him too.'"

    Robert returns from school with a friend. Judith asks if his mother knows he's not going straight home? He says his mother never worries about him. Judith looks disapproving. She says she always makes Robert check in straight after school, so that she knows he’s safe.

    The friend has a SKINHEAD MADNESS badge on the arm of his black jacket. In his school, he says, there are three Teds and three mods. The rest are all rude boys and skinheads.

    ‘What’s our Robert, then?' Judith asks.

    ‘Rude boy,' he says.

    ‘I can never keep up,' Judith says. The skinhead and the rude boy go out to collect firewood.

    Bill must have had a bad day at the UDA. He rubs at all the loose skin folded round his lantern jaw, pacing the front room, fulminating against the Provisionals and the press, the priests and the traitorous English, people like Pat Arrowsmith, Lord Longford, Vanessa Redgrave. ‘To my way of thinking, they're all just anarchists.'

    His condition doesn't improve over tea, which tonight is chops and roast potatoes and kidney beans. The IRA, Bill is convinced, do their recruiting through the Gaelic Sports Association. 'You go to one of their games,’ he says. 'You look up. You’ll see the tricolour there. Not the Union ]ack.'

    The raging goes on. It is desperate, rearguard, the laager consciousness incamate. No one understands us. Perhaps it is also the redneck running scared in the southern Bible Belt. Paisley got an honorary degree from the Bob Jones University, South Carolina. ]udith is trying to watch Crossroads.

    Television news makes things worse: dustbin lids beaten for Prince Charles in New York; eight Republican prisoners who've escaped from Crumlin Road jail are safe in hiding south of the border. Bill watches the enemy winning another phase of the propaganda war. His eyes go wild.

    'They abolished our parliament and disarrned our police. I've been paying taxes to Britain for 25 years. What happens if they just pull the troops out of Ulster?'

    The official line of the UDA, as set out by its political arm, the New Ulster Political Research Group, is that there should be a phased withdrawal of troops, with the aim of setting up an independent Ulster state. But that official line has no resonance down here, in the loyalist heartlands. Bill needs a drink.

    He walks out, this cold and rainy summer, past the London bar, a hang-out of the Ulster Volunteer Force, another Protestant paramilitary group. A boy is out trying to sweep the rubbish down the pavement, away from his front door; but the wind just keeps blowing it back.

    Past a sweetshop that used to be owned by an RUC reservist, who was shot dead one night locking up, and on past a Free Presbyterian Sunday school, Bill walks down towards the mouth of the river Lagan.

    The owner of the Oakley bar, Wilfie, has a kind of GI haircut. In the second war, about 2,000 Gls were stationed in temporary barracks nearby, at the old Bushmills distillery. Wilfie worked for eight years as a boilermaker and two years at Harland-Wolff. ‘Then,' he says, 'I robbed a bank and opened a pub.'

    Wilfie now lives in a five-bedroomed detached house in east Belfast. He built a small bungalow on to the house for his mother, who went there from her slum clearance parlour house. But she couldn't abide the central heating, and she missed her fire. She stayed in the bungalow a week, then returned to the ghetto.

    Wilfie stands about five foot eight, his big hands clenched either side of his Bacardi and Coke. 'lf there’s one thing I hate more than a Provo, it's an Englishman,' he says. ‘This is the most abused and pilloried community in the world. . . . I’m standing here in a forty pound suit, getting drunk, but I’m staying. I get drunk, hung over, dry out, get drunk again. It's okay. But l’m fucking staying here.'

    Wilfie is one of the top men in the local UDA. He calls himself an atheist and a hoodlum. ‘But everyone's a hoodlum, and the higher up you get, the bigger hoodlums they are,’ he says. ‘I'm finding that out.’

    He ran summer camps for local children for seven years, but finally got fed up with all the hassle from the 'powers that be'. It had to be 50-50, inter-denominational. lt had to be kids of certain ages. lt had to be either boys or girls. 'What kind of holiday is that?'

    'Haughey. Paisley, Pitt. Devlin. Hume.' He spits out their names. ‘The powers that be. . . . It’ll be solved eventually by the people on the ground, Prods and Taigs, getting together.'

    Prods and Taigs - there's no real difference, he says. Same houses, same culture. He comes himself from a family of ten. 'Good as the Taigs can manage,’ he says, making a quick circle with his finger at the barmaid, who lines up the fourth round in 40 minutes.

    ‘You spend all night talking and plotting. How you're going to smash everything, assassinate everyone, the lot. You go to bed feeling like King Kong! Wilfie tightens his neck muscles, and beats his fists on his chest. ‘Then you wake up in the morning. And you wonder what the fuck that was all about last night?’

    Bill walks up to say that the army have swamped the Short Strand, the nearby Catholic enclave, that there are two Saracens and two pigs (armoured cars) down there, and that everyone’s house is getting searched. Only soldiers wearing uniforms, Wilfie says, can get into the ghettoes.

    ‘Can you imagine any SAS man getting into the Short Strand? He'd be spotted a mile off. I can see immediately any stranger who comes into this area. How do they get people into those areas? The answer is they don't. That's the truth. That Captain Nairac [the SAS undercover man who was killed by the IRA in 1977], everyone knew who he was, first fucking minute he came into the bar. They said he had perfected a Belfast accent.' Wilfie laughs. 'Every night they were all looking at the bulge to find out what kind of gun he was carrying tonight.'

    On both sides of the peace lines in Belfast they tell the same stories about Nairac. They see him as a symbol of British arrogance.

    The Oakley was blown up a few years ago by the Provos, Bill says. ’Wilfie built it up with his bare hands.' Bill splays out his work-calloused hands, and holds them up to his face, showing the tattoes on both forearms.

    'I'll have a glass of stout, Bill,’ says an old man called Tom, who just has ten minutes before a tenants' meeting to discuss the next phase of the rehabilitation plans for the old ‘parlour houses' (two up, two down) in this area. Most of his life Tom was a dustbin-man; but for the last few years, he's been doing paperwork for the Royal Ancient Institute of Buffaloes, which he says is a non-sectarian organisation.

    Tom remembers the old Lagan village: the white cottages, the old timber yard, the bakery where you could get loaves a bit cheaper than they were in the shops. He remembers, too, Paisley coming round these parts in the fifties. 'He didn't have the arse in his trousers.'

    Shouting across the bar is Wilfie: ‘We don't know fucking anything. We’re all idiots. Here's to idiots.‘ He raises his glass. A land surveyor who's supposed to be the spitting image of Stewart Granger holds his glass up for the toast.

    This surveyor, a good friend of Wilfie’s, was in the Young Communist League twelve years ago. He voted for Paisley in the last general election. He says he wouldn’t mind living in a united Ireland if it meant he’d be better off.

    A young drunk, with a dirty bandage unravelling round his right hand, leans forward and retches up right at the bar. 'Go to the toilet if you want to be sick,’ the barmaid says, handing him a mop.

    After last orders, at 11.30, Bill walks back home. Before going to bed he plays again the single by Johnny Johnson, the pathetic lament for the Orange state.

    Up in Robert's tiny bedroom, two pennants hang on the bionic-man wallpaper. 'Arsenal 1971, double winners', says one; ‘Ulster 1690', the other. Out of his window, beyond the backyard, the view is of a convent. Barbed wire runs along its walls.

    'Do you find it interesting here in Belfast?' Robert asks, next morning.

    ‘Yes.'

    ‘Aye. Plenty of things to do.'

    His mother is downstairs, listening to the radio. The widow of an RUC man is being interviewed. She’s started a new organisation called Widow's Mite.

    Over at the UDA headquarters on the Newtownards Road, Judith's best friend from the old days in Suffolk, a 42-year-old woman called Laura, is rushing round organising the food and drink for Archibald's funeral this afternoon. She wears a black leather jacket and black PVC trousers.

    Laura went to live in the Suffolk enclave in 1967, because the council had said that she and her husband would get a house within the year if they were prepared to go to west Belfast. For four years there was no trouble with the Catholics round about.

    'The people were really cracker, you know. Everything was great. Until the day they introduced internment) she says. ‘And then people stopped speaking to me.'

    Laura used to feed the soldiers soup, and let them sleep in her back garden after the night patrols. One night she was kidnapped at gunpoint outside the newsagent’s, and left in the mud at the bottom of a hill. Another night she came home to find 49 families piling belongings on to open lorries. There had been a rumour that the Provos were coming up.

    'It was raining. And they were all going so quietly, like the Jews in the war. I always wondered from the war and that, why the Jews didn't stay and fight, you know. And now here we were, they were, doing the same thing. I just sat and cried as hard as it was raining.'

    She says that, before the troubles started, she had supported the civil rights marches. She had never had anything to do with Orange orders, any of that; but she couldn't understand any more what was going on.

    'Suffolk was just like what was happening in Ulster,’ she says. ‘We were supposed to be the majority. What was happening? I mean l'rn Irish. I'm not one of those who says, "Oh, no, I'm from Ulster." I am Irish, but in a way I’rn British, too. The education was British. The television, the things you were into, were British. The royal family. Britain is part of our culture.'

    Laura left Suffolk in 1978. She went to live in Scotland for a while, but got homesick. She lives now in east Belfast, where her mother always wanted her to live. It's very quiet. 'Dead as a dodo,' she says.

    Before tea tonight Bill gets his stamp collection out of the attic. He reckons he must have spent more than £1,000 on stamps over the years. He specialises in British stamps. He says it was only two months ago that Eire had its first stamp with a Protestant on it, Harry Ferguson, the man who developed the modern-style tractor.

    Judith is upstairs getting ready for parents' night at the school. Robert is hunting the streets for firewood. Bill paces the front room, lights up his fortieth cigarette of the day, and says that though most of the men who've tried to kill him are now dead, there’s still a bullet with his name on it. He stands now in the corner of the room, by the bronze-effect wallpaper. ‘Come doomsday’, he says, he'll fight.

    29 July 1981

    'Gosh, Talulah, let's kill her.'

    Forget all your fuzzy feelings about those Malory Towers books you read as a kid; Enid Blyton had a mean streak in her when she didn't have her morning coffee:

    Hat tip to 'dylans' over at Urban 75 for the very funny image. (S/he posted it on a thread on evolution.)

    I wanted to see where the image originated from so that I could see if there were any other cartoons of a similar ilk, but the link to the gif leads you ultimately to this website.

    Surely that can't be right?

    On the QT Q train

    File under 'Good to Know'.

    The episode of Futurama dates from March 2001 and, of course, the series itself is set in the 31st century but at either end of the dateline, the message of the grabbed screenshot below is loud and clear: the renovation of our local subway station is never going to be completed.

    God bless you Matt Groenig and Rupert Murdoch.

    I wonder if our local neighborhood blog will accept this post as breaking news?

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    The Jews of Cheetham Hill by Ian Walker

    For your delectation, another Ian Walker article from the New Society collection of essays, The Other Britain. (Also check out Walker's 'Anarchy in the UK' and 'Skinheads: the cult of trouble' previously posted on the blog.)

    'The Jews of Cheetham Hill' originally appeared in the October 1st 1981 issue of New Society.

    I hope to post two other New Society articles by Walker on the blog in the next couple of days. Keep your eye out for them.

    The Jews of Cheetham Hill by Ian Walker

    Tombstones and synagogues are daubed quite regularly, she said, sitting in the cafe in Cheetham Parade which looks out on to the benches at the centre of this ugly, purpose-built shopping centre around which the old Jews of the neighbourhood gather to pass the time of day.

    Estelle is 32, a third-generation Manchester Jew. Her grandparents came from eastern Europe at the turn of the century. Her father was a schmeerer, Yiddish slang for the work of smearing rubber solution on to fabric in the waterproof garment industry which, before the war, was a big source of employment for Manchester Jews.

    A supply teacher of mathematics, Estelle lives with her parents in Cheetham Hill which, with Whitefield and Prestwich, houses a suburban Jewish middle class whose ancestors came mostly from Poland, Rumania and Russia between the late nineteenth century and the middle of this century. Sephardic Jews, who came from Spain and Portugal in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, live in the south Manchester suburbs.

    There are an estimated 35,000 Jews in Manchester. Like the Jewish populations of Leeds (18,000) and Glasgow (13,500) and London (280, 000), Manchester's has changed identity - blue collar to white, terraces to semis - without solving the problem of identity. In Manchester the waterproof garment industry is more or less dead, and the Jewish Working Men's Club closed down in the 1960s. But anti-semites aren’t impressed by upward mobility.

    And among the goyim - the non-Jews - anti-semitism runs deep. There are seven definitions of 'jew' in the Collins English Dictionary, that most updated collection of British meanings. They range, in the dictionary’s typology, from 'offensive and obsolete' (to jew: to drive a hard bargain) to just plain 'offensive' (jew: a miserly person). Estelle doesn't believe in any gods, but she lives with those definitions.

    Her brother, she said, is different. A computer programmer, he has turned his back on his Jewishness; he decided it is irrelevant. That is his strategy. Estelle, who immerses herself in the Jewish political and cultural life of Cheetham, has another. Others, still, turn to religious orthodoxy or hardline Zionism. Some settle in Israel.

    Estelle drained her coffee. Outside, the tarmac was sweating in the sun, sticking to the soles of the old men and women who stood and talked. Sitting on the bench, under a poster for cider, a woman read her romantic novel. On the next bench two men discussed Begin.

    ‘Well,’ one said, with a strong Mancunian delivery. ‘I think he’s a good, straightforward man.' His friend, who was wearing a blue suit and a brown trilby, wasn't too sure, but anyway he was more interested in talking about the problems of finding a second wife.

    ‘l want a woman who is nice to look at, with money, high principles, who is kind and clean. My friend says you aren't looking for a woman. You want five women,' he said, holding open his hands.

    Estelle walked home along Upper Park Road. This tree-lined lane fronts prewar and postwar semis, 1940s mock-Tudor palaces, 1960s bungalows, new redbrick blocks of flats. Shiny V, W and X-registration saloons sat on the driveways.

    Estelle’s semi was in a more downmarket zone. The living room was strewn with clothes. Her mother makes some money doing alterations for the neighbours. It supplements her father’s pension and Estelle’s irregular earnings from teaching. Jews tend to leave one family only when they are about to start one of their own. The youth do not disappear to bedsits and flats, nor do the old live alone.

    Her mother went outside to make a cup of tea. Estelle said that her father was also an atheist. The menorah (seven-branched candelabra) on the piano, she explained, was there simply because it was on the piano when it was given to them by a neighbour.

    That night Estelle and two of her friends, Sheila and Mike, met in a new nightclub called Quentins. Sheila, an unemployed teacher, is a divorcee with two children. Mike, a pharmacist, is also single. ‘It’s a sort of tragi-comic situation for jews in our position, who would like to marry another Jew,’ said Estelle. 'Because it's a very small number of people who are in the right age group. You go round and round in ever-diminishing circles. There's fewer people every time.'

    The disc jockey played compilation 45s. There were only about a dozen people in the place, a slow Monday. Sheila said that her grandfather had walked all the way right from Russia to France, before getting the boat across to England. Mike grinned at her, disbelieving. Sheila continued with the story.

    He used to walk at night, she said, to avoid detection. When he arrived at British customs, he had a sign hung round his neck and on the sign was written his name, age and place of birth. He spoke Yiddish. Sheila, like a lot of third-generation Jews, said that although she can't speak Yiddish herself, she finds she can understand it.

    Mike is short and bearded. Like Estelle, he drinks Coke. Sheila has made a sweet sherry last an hour. ‘It’s because the Jews were always driven out by drunken bigots. That’s why we don’t drink much,' said Sheila.

    Estelle disagreed. She said that it is because Jewish children were routinely given wine during celebrations. Alcohol is not the forbidden fruit it is for non-Jewish children. Judaism is a home and family-based religion.

    ‘None of us is religious,' said Sheila, and then looking hard at her two friends around the table. ‘But we know what we are, don’t we?'

    After Sheila broke up with her husband, she started going out with a non-Jew, a Welshman; and he used to shrug when she wanted to talk about being a Jew. 'He wouldn't talk about it. He wouldn't understand how important it was for me. I remember once, he'd been driving me around, and I said that’s the third National Front poster l've seen tonight. He said, “Don't be ridiculous. You’re making it up, imagining it." But I had seen three, she said.

    Sheila went out with the Welshman for four years. She never told her parents about it. Once her boyfriend took Sheila home to meet his parents at Christmas.

    ‘As soon as I walked in, his mother cried,’ said Sheila. ‘I thought she was crying for joy, for seeing her son after such a long time. But no. lt was because he’d brought a Jew home for Christmas.'

    A man in a lounge suit, who looked like a nightclub manager, came up and apologised for the candle going out. The DJ was playing a song by Spandau Ballet: ‘Don't need this pressure on, don't need this pressure on. . . .' Do you ever feel schizophrenic, I said, carrying a Jewish identity through the scenery and sounds of British culture, like this trashy nightclub, for example?

    l’ve sat in a Chinese restaurant with reform Jews,’ replied Estelle. 'They were eating chow mein and complaining about assimilation.'

    Sheila said that she liked eating bacon, but she would only buy it at Tescos, where she could hide it under some vegetables or something. Jews had, on occasion, spotted her picking up the perma-sealed packs. She said she felt terrible.

    None of these three kept the kashrut, a kosher kitchen; but Sheila said she observes some of the rituals because she thinks they are very beautiful, and also because she has fond memories of them from her childhood: the atmosphere created by the candles on the Sabbath.

    'Judaism is a highly absorbent religion,' said Rabbi Silverman next morning at the reform synagogue in Jackson’s Row, in central Manchester. ‘Orthodox rabbis at one time used to wear dog collars. And there was a new title created, the Chief of Rabbis, which corresponded to the Archbishop of Canterbury, something of an English invention. In marriage we have a best man, which isn't a Jewish thing, and the father leading the daughter down the aisle.'

    There is also a Jewish prayer for the Queen, said Rabbi Silverman, who is young and wears a lounge suit and a skull cap.

    A Londoner, he has been in Manchester for three years. This was his first appointment after leaving rabbinical college. The synagogue has 1,300 individual members, and there are 800 households on his mailing list. The congregation is predominantly middle-class.

    He described himself as 'ceremonially traditional, but radical in theology, aggressively so.' Though he denied there was any antagonism between the reform and orthodox wings of rabbinism, he acknowledged there was a problem there sometimes.

    The reform movement is regularly accused by the orthodox of diluting judaism, of copping out, of encouraging assimilation - the word that spikes most Jewish discourse about themselves, though there is no evidence that young Jews are becoming less Jewish, or ‘marrying out’ more frequently, than their forbears.

    ‘People marrying out are weakening the Jewish fold,” said the rabbi. ‘Jewish survival has always been dependent upon people leading a full Jewish life within their home as well as the synagogue’ He added that there was also a fair amount of ‘marrying in' - people who take on the faith when they marry a Jew - which strengthened the Jewish fold.

    On the way out I talked to the secretary, a woman of 26. She is still single. She would prefer to marry someone of her own kind, she said. 'But if I met a non-Jew I really hit it off with, I might. You never know. But probably because of the ghetto-like conditions in which we live, I just don't mix with non-Jewish people. And with me working here. . . .'

    She also said: 'I mix in mostly Jewish circles. Because it’ s what I want.'

    I went back to Cheetham Hill, and walked into the kibbutz club. On the noticeboard one poster advertised the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry, which is trying to establish family links between British and Soviet Jewry, to make it easier for the latter to emigrate. The poster had lists of names against towns, starting with Abramovich of Moscow.

    Upstairs in his office was Baruch Kalmon who left Liverpool in 1961, when he was 24, to settle in Israel. He is now 44. His home is a kibbutz called Matzuva, a couple of miles from the Lebanese border. But he has been living in Cheetham Hill for the last 18 months, working in Britain for the kibbutz movement.

    A short-sleeved shirt, tight, displayed his muscular frame. He folded his fists on the table, looked at me hard in the eye. There is still a trace of Scouse in his accent: 'I think Cheetham Hill is a community that has a problem of identity.'

    Baruch is one of 30,000 British Jews who have resolved that problem by emigration to Israel. He is not religious himself - ‘I observe the Sabbath and that's it' - and he sounded weary of the Angst exhibited by Jews in the diaspora. But he had more respect for orthodox than reform Jews. The way he put it, the orthodox had more bottle.

    ‘I don't think you can be Jewish in name only,' he said, ‘and that's why l respect the orthodox. They're toeing the line. And that's why the other people, the reform, have a problem. The other alternative is the renaissance of the Jewish people in their own land. And I've done it, a living example. So I'm not soapbox, you know?'

    Baruch’s wife is Dutch, a survivor of the holocaust, and he has just returned from a tour of Holland and West Germany with 76 Jewish young people from Manchester, London and Glasgow. The idea was to bring the holocaust home to them, he said. In Holland a non-Jewish survivor from Auschwitz came over to speak and, in West Germany, the young Jews were told: 'You are here today as free Jewish citizens of the UK in a Germany where, 40 years ago, you'd have been locked away on sight.'

    A lot were in tears, he said, after the Auschwitz survivor had spoken.

    Downstairs is a private nursery. The children were eating their lunch - shepherd's pie. I walked again up this leafy lane, Upper Park Road. lt seemed, even more than before, too conspicuously normal, as if a whole subculture had become disguised in the clothes, houses and cars of the English bourgeoisie.

    Heathlands is a Jewish old people's home, opened in 1971. It stands in five acres of grounds, and at 3.30 that afternoon the residents were out in the gardens, taking tea.

    Mr and Mrs Brazil had only been there a week, but it's a lovely place all right, she said, adding that her husband - staring blankly across the lawns - was a touch senile. She is 79.

    Her parents came from Warsaw. She was born in Manchester. Her father, she said, was a ladies' tailor. Her husband’s father was a gents’ tailor. She thinks the current generation have turned away from religion:

    ‘When we were little girls we weren't allowed on the buses on a Saturday, and we had someone in to light the fire. Used to come in and put wood on the fire and light the kettle. It has changed, all that. Now everything is made easy for everyone, and still people moan. My father, he used to work through the night, every Thursday through to Friday. He died a young man, he was only 52, but he was a gentlemen.'

    Away from the main tea-time clamour on the terrace, three men sat under a parasol on the lawn. They all thought that Jews in Manchester were far more religious these days.

    'In my day,' said Henry, who worked as a schmeerer and has hard Mancunian vowels, 'the Jewish lads wasn’t religious as they are today.'

    The reason for that was poverty, Said Abraham, who did all kinds of jobs but ended up being a taxi driver. 'Worked eight days a week to get a living. No time for religion. These days, more time, more money, smaller families. Only people these days who have big families are the ultra orthodox: they like a lot of sons,' he said.

    Sam also worked as a schmeerer, from the age of 14 to 16. But he said that work was scarce; they'd only be employed in the factory for up to six months a year. The rest of the time they'd go out 'clapping': knocking on doors, trying to buy things which they'd sell on the markets. Or else, he said, they'd run a book, try to make a bob or two.

    ‘That’s how Gus Denning started. Biggest bookmaker in the country,’ said Sam. 'He still owes me ten bob!' Sam has lived for spells in New York and Boston. For 40 years he ran a gents' outfitters.

    'There’s our Reverend, with the black hat on, said one of them, pointing to a man stepping into a saloon parked outside the terrace. There is a small synagogue at Heathlands. ‘You need no less than ten men for a service,' said Henry, pulling down his flat cap. 'Very hard to find ten men who are willing to do it. Seventy per cent are women here.' Women don’t count to a quorum.

    ‘You’re not forced to go,' added Abraham. 'We're not what you call fully orthodox. Very hard to be an orthodox Jew. Very hard.'

    Sam stared down at the terrace, looking for a man called Simon Stone who is 100. He would have liked me to have met him. Great character, he said. ‘He likes a pint.'

    There is no bar at Heathlands, just a confectioner's. The inmates get their pension taken off them, and every fortnight they are given £10.90 spending money. If you don't smoke, there's not much to spend money on here, said Henry. He sold up his house after his last family died, and wrote the cheque for £9,000, to Heathlands.

    A man in an old grey suit and flat cap, Lionel, shuffled across the lawn. Lionel was a bookie's clerk for 25 years. Now, at 86, he’s almost completely blind.

    'Oh, I’ve been well looked after,’ Lionel said. 'All good lads, especially at Manchester. You can't lick ’em.' He said he once took Chico Marx to the races.

    A couple of the inmates had told me that at Heathlands there were some survivors from the concentration camps. I remembered getting a lift in Israel with a man who had a number tattooed on the back of his hand. The holocaust made it impossible for a non-Jew in Israel to be critical of Zionism. The same was true of Sheila: anti-Zionism, for her, is just a modern form of anti-semitism.

    In a wine bar on Bury New Road I met another of Estelle's circle, Alan Ross, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Group, one of about 150 voluntary Jewish organisations in Manchester. He sat down with Beryl Werber, secretary of the group. Loud disco played through the speakers.

    A tall, shy man, Alan works as a superviser in the Unilever factory. Born and bred in nearby Crumpsall, he has been active in community work for the last ten years. He’s now 36. Beryl, who is 34, runs a shoe shop in Salford. The community relations group, said Alan, tries to build bridges between the Jews and other Manchester minorities. So far they’d held joint events with the local Ukrainians, Moslems and West Indians.

    But it was an uphill struggle, Alan said. People were too suspicious, too insular. 'There's a lot of people scared of their children going to non-Jewish discos and clubs,' he said. 'Last year I met someone from the West Indian community, a community leader, and she was married to a Jewish bloke. It was ideal, to me. They’d met in Jamaica. Heart-rending in a way, wasn't it?' He turned his head towards Beryl, who nodded.

    Alan once organised a dance for different minorities in Manchester. ‘People didn’t come, with it being a dance. Thought they might meet people of a different religion) he said, sighing. ‘Plus it was an awful night. Hadn't stopped raining all day.'

    They both sipped their rosé. By 9.30 pm the wine bar was packed, mostly with Jews in their teens and early twenties, with money to spend midweek. ‘Did you see the film, Babylon?’ Alan asked, suddenly. 'It was fortunate that in Manchester it played in a porno cinema. So most of them there was expecting some soft porn or something. But it's a good job not many white people saw it. lt would have given them a terrible idea about blacks. The whole film was about disco equipment, and who could play music the loudest. I mean, what a terrible impression to give of the black community.'

    ‘It was very violent, too,’ said Beryl.

    Alan said how pleased he was that the local police would be sending representatives along to the group’s festival at the Ukrainian Centre this month. Alan believes that the riots in Manchester in the summer were a disgrace, and that the fascists must have had a hand in it.

    Sheila arrived at the wine bar with Estelle, who said that a friend of hers had seen National Front leaflets being distributed during the riots, which was proof positive. Brick-throwing and Nazis seem, for Estelle and her friends, to be an irresistible connection. Rabbi Silverman had told me that Jews in the suburbs were scared now, thinking that the rioters would maybe come up round their way.

    Riot. It summons up Germany in the 1930s, disorder in the streets, banging on the door. It provokes a sort of sickness. Sheila said that that is one of the reasons why Jews tend not to publicise racist attacks on their people and property: they are fearful it will encourage more, imitative, violence.

    She knows of one incident in north Manchester where a Jewish youth club leader was beaten up by the National Front. She said that the Jewish boys stood and watched. She wished they had fought back, like the Asians in Southall.

    Later that night, towards closing time, with most people disappearing to the cars outside, Sheila got involved in an argument with an Irish friend of hers, who was born a Catholic, then was an atheist for 18 years, till recently he became converted to the Pentecostal Church. Sheila believed, first, that there was an international, terrorist, anti-semitic plot and, second, that no act of terrorism was ever justified.

    The Irishman replied there was no conspiracy, and that terrorism was just a pejorative, used to describe the violence of the enemy. lt was, therefore, a complicated moral question. The disco tape clicked off. Everyone went home.

    Martin Bobker, whom I spoke to next afternoon in his garden, was orphaned at 16, worked as a butcher's boy, then for a French polisher, before becoming a schmeerer. After the Second World War, he was able to re-train as a teacher. He is now, at 70, head of Cheetwood primary school.

    He joined the Communist Party when he was 21, the day after Hitler came to power in 1933. ‘The definition of a Jew is the definition that is acceptable to other people. Hitler didn't give a bugger about orthodox or reform,' he said. 'l agreed with Leo Abse when he said, "What makes me a Jew is anti-semitism." Marx also said that the Jewish people had been preserved, not in spite of anti-semitism, but because of anti-semitism.’

    Martin grew up in High Town, just below Cheatham Hill. He remembers the anti-Jewish gangs that used to maraud around Strangeways in the mid-1920s, and it was these people who later joined Mosley’s blackshirts. Mosley had his local headquarters in London Road, by the railway station, but his barracks were in Salford. It was a direct route through Bury New Road. Young Jews had to form their own gangs to defend the area.

    'The blackshirts bullied and terrorised everyone, until these lads got together. Put a stop to it,’ he said, seated on the sloping back lawn of his semi in Whitefield.

    In the 1930s, most of the young Jews in the Strangeways and Cheetham area were identified in one way or another with the Young Communist League, he said. Some of his friends went to fight in Spain. Martin was too young to go. He stayed behind and organised events for the YCL, including camps on behalf of the British Workers Sports Federation.

    'I organised some good camps,' he said. 'Peace camps. Anti-fascist camps. Unity camps, which we held jointly with the Labour League of Youth.'

    Martin left the Communist Party in 1953 to join the Labour Party. He is chairman of his local ward, and vice-chairman of the Middleton and Whitefield constituency. His own life, schmeerer to headmaster, is a mirror of the class movement of the Jews. He said it first really hit him, how much things had changed, when the Jewish Lads Brigade (a branch of the Boys Brigade) invited him to speak, in 1960, about a neo-Nazi movement which had risen up in West Germany.

    'I was talking to them like I had done prewar - I mean, I used to stand up on chairs outside factories and address the Jewish workers. And I suddenly realised not one of them worked in a factory. They didn't know what I was talking about.'

    The only Jewish workers left in Manchester, he said, are a few old men. And whereas, before the war, no Jew would vote right of Labour, now there are large numbers of Tory Jews. The other force which has shoved Jews to the right has been, he said, the growth of Zionism.

    ‘With the establishment of lsrael,' he said, 'the Zionist influence was complete, on the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and in the local representative councils. And with the advent of people from eastern Europe coming over to take up jobs, people who were very learned in Jewish traditional life, there was a tremendous development of ultra-orthodox elements.'

    Martin feels it is possible that some of the actions of the state of Israel could lead to the development of anti-semitism. In any case, Israel could not solve the problems of Jews in the diaspora, he said. ‘Zionism has deflected people from trying to find solutions in the countries in which they are settled.'

    He took me into the house, made a cup of coffee, and then pulled some old folders, pamphlets and cuttings, in plastic bags, out of a drawer. He scattered his political past all over the table, and put on his glasses.

    There he was at a peace conference, a good-looking man of 25. That was the censored issue of the Daily Worker, on 5 September 1942. Those were the files he kept on the Rosenberg case. There was the magazine he edited while he was at Freckleton training college, from 1949 to 1950. And there were two letters he wrote to the papers: one about his opposition to German re-armament, in 1963, and one about the price of kosher meat.

    He grabbed another cutting: the Jewish Lads Brigade tried to organise a mixed dance with Flixton youth club in july 1958, an event which was stopped by the communal council. And another: COUNCILLOR SAT SHTUM (said nothing), SAYS AJEX MAN. The Ajex (Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen) man was Martin. The event this time, the Notting Hill race riots in 1958.

    Martin's eldest son is a research chemist, his youngest a doctor of mathematics. His daughter is a deputy head. 'They haven't done badly really. ln spite of all my nefarious activities,' he said, taking off his glasses.

    1 October 1981