Monday, January 30, 2012

The Street where they live by Ian Walker (New Society 3 April 1980)

Did I ever mention on the blog that Coronation Street's Stan Ogden was supposed to have been an International Brigader? By the time Ian Walker wrote this article in 1980 all memory of The Street's radical past was long forgotten.
" . . . sentimental Labour Party nationalism", indeed.
The Street where they live by Ian Walker
An old man sits in the Rover's return, saying nothing. A few yards away, in Elsie Tanner's living room, Len Fairclough is confessing that he has beaten up a woman, but the old man doesn't seem too interested. An extra, he has been sitting in the Rover's on and off for the last 13 years. The first episode of Coronation Street went out on 7 December 1960.

They all call it The Street, those who work on the programme, like producer Bill Podmore. "People says it's bloody ridiculous," he says. "All them things wouldn't happen on one street. But The Street ia all the streets. That's dramatic licence."

But scrub the term "soap opera." According to Bill, The Street is a "drama series," employing nine writers, two continuity writers and one programme historian. "A lot of the stories are taken from real life. Like there was this newspaper story about GIS returning to this country and meeting up with old girl friends. So we played it with a GI coming round to look Hilda up. Yes, we are aping reality." The Street has seen five births, 20 deaths and eleven weddings, but no abortions.

"We're very aware we're talking about working class people, the problems they have. We're talking about real people. We'll always have someone saying, 'Do you know, Albert Tatlock's just like my uncle whatsit?' As long as people are saying that, then the programme will be a success." Arrangements are already in hand for celebrations attendant upon The Street's two-thousandth episode, due for transmission on Monday, 2 June. "Everyone knows an Annie Walker and a busty barmaid who's quick with the repartee."

The television strike put the programme behind schedule, so film produced this Thursday afternoon will be watched by around 19 million next Wednesday night. "We're ready to go, 45 seconds. Nice and quiet now . . . 15 seconds." The floor manager beats sound out with his arm and the theme tune plays in, that mournful accompaniment to the smoke drifting over the backstreets in the opening shots, mourning originally I suppose the heartache down there on the wrong sides of the tracks, but more now it seems mourning for the old England, the old north.

It is a dirge for the world which lost out to gay rock stars and American detective shows; which caved in with the Special Patrol Group and race riots. The last time any black people appeared in The Street was in 1974 when the Bishops fostered two black children at Christmas.

Stan Ogden sits in a threadbare armchair reading Sporting Life. Hilda is away in Spain, and there us a mountain of washing up in the sink. The floor manager snaps his fingers for the dummy run to begin. Before filming, the producer, sitting up in a glass box, must work out all the camera angles. Young men push around grey metal structures supporting seated cameramen.

"It's great," says one of the lads doing the pushing. "Great. In August you get a straight ten weeks off, full pay. This is my first year, like, and you just do this, then a bit of mixing." When he has finished his apprenticeship, he will get pushed around too.

Stan Ogden receives a visit from Eddie Yates, the fat Scouse, who predicts the pasting Stan will get from Hilda when she sees what a state the place is in.

Eddie Yates, like Stan Ogden, speaks exactly the same on and off screen. "Exciting, isn't it, showbiz?" he says, when the scene is over. "The tinsel, the glitter . . . I'm an 18-stone Greta Garbo." The Street's sex symbol, Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix), says that she expects I'm here to do "another knocking job" as she waltzes by.

Someone tells me Jim Callaghan once said Pat Phoenix was "the sexiest thing on TV." The Street has many famous fans: Laurence Olivier, Roy Orbison, David Essex, Diana Dors, Cyril Smith, the late Marc Bolan. John Betjeman once came round to Granada for lunch. He likened The Street to Pickwick Papers; reckoned that if Dickens was around now, this is the kind of stuff he'd be doing.

The Street had its biggest international audience in the early sixties, when it was exported to 19 different countries, but subsequently those networks developed their own working class soap operas and now only television stations in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada still screen it.

Elsie Tanner is supposed to be brewing tea for Len Fairclough, but the box of matches has gone astray and Vinny, the props manager, tears his hair out. "Shocking isn't it?" he says. "Not a box of matches in the place." Pat Phoenix languidly remarks that it doesn't matter; she can fire up the gas ring with a cigarette lighter, shielding it from the camera with her body so the viewers will never know.

After she's put the kettle on, an out-of-work Elsie tells Len she has just been for a job interview. "Oh," he says. "You're going to the boss's wife."

"Boss's plaything, I'm not fussy," she replies, the cheeky kink of the lips, the raunchy available local girl. James Callaghan could never feels as at home with Jane Fonda or Brigitte Bardot. The scene ends with Len Fairclough, head in hands, starting to cry after he says, "Elsie. Why am I such a bloody fool?"
The moment the floor manager winds up the scene, he wipes away the tears and starts laughing.

The fixture list pinned to the wall of The Street's working man's cafe is for Man City, the one in the Rovers is for Man United, and it is in the Rovers that around 15 extras have taken up their positions. "Bit of chatter please," they are instructed. The three men playing darts land all their arrows in and around the 20. "Well, what sort of year do you think it's going to be business-wise then, 1980?" the worker (pint of bitter) demands of the businessman (gin and tonic).

Granada TV should continue to do well business-wise, out of The Street. A 60-second advertising spot for transmission in the Granada area alone costs £7,000. "It's a very popular programme so you have to pay the top premium rate, what we call superfix," says the man in the ad sales department.

Eddie Yates buys his girl friend a half of lager in the Rovers. The woman playing that part has been on good money for the last few weeks, but next week she'll be travelling home to London. She says she hasn't got any other work lined up, but she has heard that her part went down well with the producer. She thinks she might be written back in soon.

Even if she sin't, the programme historian, Eric Rosser, will have preserved her role for posterity. He used to work for the Inland Revenue till, ten years ago, he wrote to the executive director with some ideas for story-lines. His letter disclosed such intimate knowledge of The Street that he was hired as an archivist. "I kept records from that first show, 20 years ago," he says. Now aged 66, he has only ever missed three or four episodes, which he was able to see run through again at Granada. Does he remember any gays featuring in The Street? "No, nothing like that at all. We had an attempted rape once, but we've had no homosexuals at all on The Street." Next Monday's show is going to be the 1,984th episode.

Filming finishes at six on the dot. "We start at 9.30 sharp tomorrow." The floor manager's shout is drowned in a determined rush for the exits. Some are making for the Granada drinking club over the road, where two women, one with a peroxide bouffant, say they have just been interviewed by Tit-Bits for a feature on the women who work in The Street's factory.

It grew up with Z-Cars, Harold Wilson, football as a fashionable interest for rulers. Now, in 1980, The Street has become a period piece, sentimental Labour Party nationalism: coronations, pints of bitter, working girls with knowing winks. The streets are different now.

The outdoor scenes are filmed every Monday on a street Granada built, just behind the studios. It is a row of empty shells: facades and backyards with nothing in the middle.
3 April 1980

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Killing the Lawyers by Reginald Hill (Harper Collins 1997)

"I know the Spartans, that's my old club, have been using the track evenings for training to help it settle. Plus there's the workmen putting finishing touches. Plus people using other bits of the Plezz could easily stroll in here. Shouldn't you concentrate on who's got access to the spare keys? Can't be too many of them."

Oh dear, thought Joe. Like a good princess, she wasn't going to be shy about telling the help what they ought to be working at.

He said, "Got your key handy?"

She passed it over. Joe moved along the wall of metal lockers. They came in blocks of eight. Zak's was second from the left. He counted two in the next block and inserted the key. The door opened. He did the same with the next block.

,p>This way the manufacturers only need eight variations on locks and keys instead of an infinity," he explained.

"But it's lousy security!" she protested angrily.

"Saves rate payers money," said Joe with civic sternness. "As for security, your crook's got to work it out first."

"You worked it out," she said not un admiringly

That's my job," he said modestly, not thinking it worthwhile to reveal that the lockers at Robco Engineering where he'd worked nearly twenty years had suffered from the same deficiency which he'd worked out after ten.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Come in, Mary by Ian Walker (New Society 29 November 1979)

Another piece from the Ian Walker New Society archive. It dates from November 1979 and, to be honest, it is not one of his better articles.
I think it initially caught my eye because of the mention of Brian Hayes. A long time ago a couple of SPGBers insisted that Hayes was strongly sympathetic to the SPGB's politics. I never knew if there was any truth in the claim but it was the case that the SPGB members did regularly appear on LBC phone-in shows in the first half of the eighties. Maybe Hayes was just a canny operator, and he gave out that vibe to all number of political groups who provided the cheap knockabout entertainment for LBC back in the day.
Reading the article thirty years on it all seems so sedate in comparison with the drip drip drip of political poison that passes for talk radio today.
Come in, Mary by Ian Walker
Some say it is democratic. Some say it is the best way of finding out what people are thinking. Some say it gives advice and help to people who need those things. Some say it was only invented because it was a cheap way of filling up air-time. Some say that only cranks and bores ever bother to call the phone-ins. "It's an intense way of earning your living," says Brian Hayes, in a break for ads, before the 10.30 news bulletin, here in Studio A at the London Broadcasting Company.

"More than just a phone-in. It's Brian Hayes on LBC, bam-bam-bam." This jingle is called a sting: it distinguishes certain elements of the show, says the engineer who sits in front of a console, separated by glass from the studio, where a grey-suited Brian Hayes speaks into a microphone. He is telling his 200,000-odd listeners that at eleven o'clock he will be talking to Professor Keith Simpson, a renowned pathologist who has just published a book on death, "And he will be here to answer your calls." At twelve, Clark Todd, NBC correspondent in London will discuss Ted Kennedy's decision to run for President.

For two years now, the switchboard on the Brian Hayes Show has been run single-handed by Mark Smith, who has long red hair and beard and who worked in an off-licence for a year before he came to LBC: "What would you like to talk about? . . . Can I have your name? . . . What part of London do you live in? . . . Stay on the line and you'll be on the air in a few minutes." Mark scribbles GILES, CAMBERWELL in black felt tip on yellow paper, which is then stuck behind the engineer's console, where Brian Hayes can see it. "Now we talk to Giles from Camberwell. Hello Giles."

"Chris from Lewisham got a kid who's school phobic," says Mark to the producer, Lawrie Douglas, who replies, "Yeah, I want more on school phobia." Yesterday a report came out on school phobia and this is one of the topics Brian Hayes has asked listeners to focus on this morning. School phobia is ideal for this show: it is current, the listeners will be concerned about it, the callers should have some interesting anecdotes, and it is not too highbrow. "We've got more Cs and Ds than As and Bs," says Lawrie, the producer. "The show can't be too intellectual."

Mary from Maida Vale is telling hayes that her child was ridiculed in front of the class, with the full approval of the teacher. "This sounds a perfectly valid reason for a teacher to be sacked," he replies, keeping his eye on the cloack as he speaks. He must go to the ads and the news every 15 minutes, trail forthcoming items on LBC. His response to Mary is tailored to the requirements of the second hand. He then jerks his finger to the engineer, who plays in a commercial. "Whiskas is always called and healthy. Sam know it's best."

The ads are scheduled either side of the news headlines. "The maximum permitted by the IBA is nine minutes per hour," says Lawrie. "And we get in, er, nine minutes." A 60-second spot on the Brian Hayes Show costs £162 and a 30-second spot, £90.

A stencilled note headlined "Profanity" is pinned to the wall of the tiny control room. Phone-ins, these days, are not quite live: they are received ten seconds after they are broadcast, allowing the "profanity button" to wipe out any obscenities, libels, or "excessive promotion of products." But Lawrie says that the only people he used it on are the Bishop of Woolwich and the Pencourt reporters. At ten seconds to eleven, the news reader presents exactly three minutes of news bulletins.

The pathologist, Professor Keith Simpson, disturbs no stereotypes. He is grey and balding and exudes enthusiasm about his job. "I prefer dead bodies to live ones," he trills. The switchboard is jumping. "This woman has a dreadful fear of being buried alive," says Mark questioningly. Lawrie shakes his head. The Prof has brought with him a man from his publisher, who collaborated on the books he has just written, and who is telling everyone in the control room that the Prof advised the Japanese on the cause of death of the King of Siam and investigated the Sharon Tate murders for the American government.

"The dead body for me is rather like a jigsaw puzzle," says the Prof. "I suppose you called him a necrophile," says Mark.

"Look who we've got coming on next," smiles the engineer to Lawrie. "Dewhurst, the Master Butcher." "Oh, really? Is he on next? Haven't we got another ad? Colgate?" A pathologist and a butcher is (like death and the Kennedys?) an unfortunate juxtaposition.

"The trouble with dying, as Mountbatten said, is that you're so stiff the next day." The Prof is telling a caller he is not afraid of death. The 11.45 bulletin contains the news that Sydney Tafler, the actor, has died, age 63.

Back on the air, the Prof mentions his book again. "He's a good publicist," says Lawrie. "He's done that twice." The man from the publisher protests that he didn't tell him to do that at all, "I never briefed him." The PR plug can be pulled out by pressing the profanity button, but of course it rarely is. PR is advertising and radio stations are well aware of that. The writer or the actor gets to push the product; the radio station gets a good show.

"You've got a buyer," says Mark to the man from the publisher. "Someone wants to know where you can get a hold of the book." The man from the publisher is happy. Lawrie makes a winding action with his arm to Brian Hayes and Mark writes Kennedy on the tape which will record the next part of the show.

A caller wants to speak to "Mr Clark." Hayes and Clark Todd, of NBC, both smile and shrug. "Chappaquickwick," mispronounces the caller. "Why do they keep on about this unfortunate girl?"

"You haven't heard anything yet," replies Clark Todd. Brian Hayes adds that "Already the jokes are starting, even here. I heard one the other day, from a comedian called Bernard Manning. He said: 'I don't know why they bothered to impeach Nixon. They should have suggested that Ted Kennedy drove him home in the car.'"

Someone walks into the control room. "That's probably the lead now," he says, handing a slip of paper to the producer, Lawrie. "No. I've got one already on Vickers." "Oh shit," says the man who thought he had written the lead.

At 12.29, Lawrie walks into the studio with the bits of paper which contain the three minutes of news. He comes back, rubs his hands in anticipation of the whisky he will shortly receive in the boardroom. The man from NEW SOCIETY is to get the PR treatment.

IBA rulings about balance can make life difficult, Lawrie explains over his whisky especially during general elections, when lists of political allegiances of callers have to be kept and the ideological books balanced each week. Brian Hayes, who drinks neat tonic, says he agrees with the principle of balance, but can get irritated by its cosmetic application. But Hayes says there are practical reasons too for his keeping a low political profile: "For the listeners it categorises you for evermore. Stifles discussion. I mean, just the fact that the listeners know I'm Australian is used against me when the chips are down."

At two minutes to three, George Gale, ex-editor of the Spectator, sits at the sand brown felt-topped table occupied two hours earlier by Brian Hayes. He's wearing a green tweed jacket and has long grey hair which periodically flops over his half-moon glasses and he has to sweep it back so he can continue leafing through the newspapers. Mark works the switchboard for his show too, but there is a different producer, Gary Donovan, who says, "It's a question and answer session. Like dial-a-pundit." Whereas the Hayes show is "structured,: the phone-in is "unstructured": George gale will take calls on more or less anything.

The switchboard is very quiet, only a few calls so far. First on the air is a man who wants to know George's opinion of the Iranians holding hostages at the American embassy. Gale calls them "religious maniacs."

"Lunatics yesterday," says the producer. "They were religious lunatics."

Fifteen minutes later, Gale has still only dealt with one call. "I'll pass these through to give him a hint some other people are on the line." Gary takes in some names on yellow slips of paper and places them on Gale's table.

"Hello, George." The callers on the show are more chummy. "Yes." "How's the line now, George?" He had a bad line earlier. "Yes?"

This caller wants to know how the government arrive at their balance of payment figures. George Gale explains. "Thanks very much George," says the caller as he signs off. One more satisfied customer. The next caller wants to know if david Steel would make a good Prime Minister. "You can't tell in advance whether Prime Ministers are going to be good or bad," replies George gale. "But his entire life is based on the assumption that he won't be Prime Minister."

One caller suggests that "the BBC should be had up for treason," for their collaboration with the IRA, and that's all there is time for. "That's all from me. I'll be back tomorrow." George Gale puts his pen in his pocket, gathers up his newspapers and walks out of the studio, out of the building. He doesn't hang about, they all say, doesn't George. Mark plays me a "cart" (tape cartridge) which is an edited version of all Gale's stutters and mumblings and ers in one programme. Once, he says, this cartridge got played into George's earphones by mistake. But he only laughed.
29 November 1979

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Be Cool by Elmore Leonard (Delacorte Press 1999)

You see Get Leo?

Again, a pause and Linda saying, Wait a minute. You're Chili Palmer? You are you were on Charlie Rose at least a half hour. He got you to admit your name's Ernest, and I recognize your voice. I've read all about you the interviews, the ones that asked if it's true you were a gangster in Florida? Or was it Brooklyn?


I loved Get Leo, I saw it twice. The only thing that bothered me, just a little. The guy's too short to be what he is?

Well, that, yeah. But you know going in Michael Weir's short. What was it bothered you?

He's so sure of himself. I can't stand guys who think they know everything. What other movies have you done?

He listened to his voice come on after a pause. I did Get Lost next. Admitting it.

When she says, I still haven't seen it.

He tells her. A sequel has to be better'n the original or it's not gonna work.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Simon says by Ian Walker (New Society 3 January 1980)

Regular readers of the blog will know that I have a longstanding admiration for the late Ian Walker. A campaigning journalist for The Leveller, New Society, The Observer and the Daily Mirror from the late 70s up until the late 80s, Walker combined radical politics with a wonderfully fluid writing style. (Sadly, the two don't always go hand in hand.).
Thanks to SJW, I have been able to secure photocopies of a number of Ian Walker's articles from his time at New Society and, over the coming months, I'll be posting these articles on the net at regular intervals if and when time allows.
I guess I could do the sensible thing and post the articles in chronological order, but as it's my blog, it's my rules, and I'll be posting them in the sequence in which they've caught my eye.
First up is an article from January 1980 about the National Front in Hackney.
Simon says by Ian Walker

The Greek woman who opened the door looked scared. She looked scared because she knows that the man who lives above her was a National Front infiltrator. She knows the Front know where he lives. She has been told to expect, one night, a knock on the door from men out for revenge.

Simon Read, that is his pseudonym, has told her all this. He also told a public inquiry in Hackney, on 12 December, that he worked as a night guard at Excalibur House in the East End. NF Properties claim that this premises is used solely for printing and business purposes. Its opponents claim it is the national HQ of the National Front. The inquiry resumes on Monday. Under art deco light fittings in the town hall's main chamber, the inquiry is presided over by Inspector Kealey from the Department of the Environment, his voice as neatly clipped as his moustache. He is fighting a rearguard action against the intrusion of politics into legal argument. As far as he is concerned, the inquiry is taking place in response to appeals against enforcement notices served by Hackney borough council in May 1979. It is a planning issue under the Town and Country Planning Act, 1971. The inspector must keep the chambers clean of ideology.

Gerard McMorrow, a systems designer at the London Hospital in Whitechapel, is giving evidence on behalf of Hackney trades council, of which he is chairman. His argument is that the use of Excalibur House by the Front is contrary to the council's policy of encouraging employment opportunities; that the presence of the NF will lead to frequent political clashes which will be a disincentive to firms who might otherwise have set up in Hackney; and that the racist nature of the Front will discourage black workers from seeking jobs in the area.

Cross-examined by Anthony Reed-Herbert, the lawyer representing the Front, and himself a member of the party, McMorrow becomes more emotional: "People are frightened in south Hackney."

"And they're frightened of being mugged too, by blacks, if you want to bring politics into it," shouts out Derrick Day, the NF activist, in a brown crumpled mac, sitting behind his lawyer.

The witness after Gerard McMorrow is Abdul Noor, an executive member of the Bangladesh Youth Movement for Equal Rights. "What is your form of oath?" the inspector asks him. "I mean, what is your religion?" Abdul replies he is a Moslem; he has to swear by Allah.

When he starts reading his statement, the inspector frowns, and Michael Gettleson, the second lawyer for the Front (but not himself a party member), screws up his face, "I simply can't understand him." Gettleson says he would prefer a translator and the inspector agrees. But Richard Allfrey, one of the opposing lawyers, explains that Abdul has to be back at work after lunch. When this humiliation of Abdul Noor has been completed, the difficulty is resolved by Allfrey reading out the statement for him.

It describes how Abdul was beaten up by four white skinheads who came out of Excalibur House one night while he was walking home from work. He lost consciousness, and was picked up by an Asian minicab driver. Abdul has moved to a job in Whitechapel, where he feels safer.

When a young black called Edward Shaw sits behind the witness desk, the inspector does not realise the significance of his Babylon hat. Mistaking his light-skinned appearance for that of an Asian, he asks if he is a Moslem. "No."

"Well, what is your religion?"


"Oh," replies the inspector. "I, er, don't think we have an oath for, er . . . " Stephen Sedley, the lawyer representing Hackney Council for Racial Equality, stands up smiling - though it is not that funny - and says, "You have power to issue an affirmation which is binding in all circumstances, sir."

Shaw recounts the harassment he suffered digging up the road at Great Eastern Street, where he was working for two and a half weeks: spat at, called a "nigger bastard," stones thrown. Every morning he had to clear out the rubbish which had been tipped overnight into the hole he was digging. "But this could happen anywhere, couldn't it?" asks the inspector. What does he know?

Derrick Day did not know that Simon Read was going to be a witness at the inquiry. When Simon worked as a night guard at Excalibur House, he got quite friendly with Day. He used to get Day cheap cuts of meat from the kitchen where Simon works as a chef. Day even invited him round for tea once to his bottom floor flat on a Hoxton council estate. Day's wife said that Simon looked like a communist, and Day laughed.

After lunch, Simon Day, in a grey suit and Excalibur House tie, gives his evidence. "My political beliefs are that I am an anarchist, and I am not formally a member of any political party other than the National Front." The inspector frowns. This has been a puzzling day.

Simon goes on to explain that he joined the NF in August 1978 in order to provide the Anti-Nazi League with information about Front activities. From December 1978 to June 1979 he attended every meeting, demonstration and local leafleting session. He became a national steward, and spoke at the Front's annual conference. He describes Excalibur House:

"The ground floor consists of a 'security box,' which is a tiny room by the front door. There is a small bench for security staff, and a telephone which I remember had a list of numbers by it, including that of Centerprise [a radical bookshop in Hackney], the SWP [Socialist Workers Party], 10 Downing Street, and various radio phone-in programmes. Stacked in the corner, under the window, there was a pile of weapons, including wooden clubs and iron bars. A wooden pickaxe handle had something written on it in ballpoint pen. I think it said 'Jew beater'."

Simon rummaged round the office of the Front secretary, Martin Webster, on the second floor, he says, and found a letter on top of his filing tray from a National Front infiltrator in a left-wing caucus of the National Union of Mineworkers. Derrick Day yawns extravagantly. He attempts to read his paper and is scolded for so doing by the inspector. "Sorry, sir," says Day, folding up his Telegraph.

Simon has met Reed-Herbert, the Front lawyer a number of times. This becomes clear during the cross-examination, when Reed-Herbert says that the second and third floors of the "appeal premises" are used by a subsidiary of NF Properties for storing ties and shirts. "That's absolute rubbish," Simon replies. "They never stored anything there. If there had've been ties there, I'd have nicked them . . . Actually I'm wearing an Excalibur House tie, which you yourself sold to me, if you remember."

The only time Inspector Kealey intervenes in these exchanges is when Reed-Herbert alludes to Simon's arrest on the night of 21 June. He was carrying a bag which contained a tube of superglue, a bottle of concentrated acid and a crowbar. He was charged with intent to cause criminal damage. The case comes up later this year.

Just two days later, on a Thursday night, I'm sitting in the living room of the first-floor flat Simon shares with his girl friend, Karen, drinking coffee. He is now wearing a combat jacket; he says he's always "had a fetish about them." It is "amazingly easy," he reckons, to infiltrate the Front. "I'd got steel-capped boots and things; kept my mouth hanging open . . . They never talk about politics really. It's just racist abuse."

Simon, a middle class grammar school boy with a lower second in political philosophy, has a strange admiration for Derrick Day. "He's got a tremendous appeal. People talk about his speeches for years afterwards. Well, they're not speeches . . . . but it's effective, immensely emotional." He ranks Day No. 2 in the party, after John Tyndall.

I ask Simon how his view of the NF changed after he'd joined the party. He says that, contrary to left rhetoric, the police hate the Front. "I mean, who gives them trouble on a Saturday night? The left are not the fighting type. I've been on any number of anti-fascist marches, and I've never been kicked around and spat at and really hated like I was when I was with the National Front at Southall, when Blair Peach was killed."

Simon also went in thinking the party was on its last legs. "But I don't believe that now. They are a party in embryo stage. They're establishing an HQ. They even use the word 'cadres.' I think they're going to grow, especially with an Anti-Nazi League demise, media silence, and no violent reaction against them."

He is committed to a violent opposition, thinks that most anti-fascists are wet, and recalls that at Southall he marched in a 30-strong NF column through thousands of protestors and was never touched. "At Southall the only member of the Front who got beat up was an old guy of about 70. About a hundred people beat him up."

I say he seems to have enjoyed the frisson of being a fake fascist, a fake toughnut? "It's a lot more fun than being on ANL picket lines, standing for hours in the rain," he says. "The pickets have a role . . . But I just wanted to be as effective as possible. What was the alternative? An extra one on the picket?"

Karen, his girl friend, adds that Simon has a need for excitement. He grins sheepishly, and says that "when I left the Front I took up parachuting instead."

"When I came out of court," Simon says, "there was an NF photographer there, taking pics and saying, 'I hope you sleep well at night'."

Do you sleep well at night? "I'm afraid so. Yes."

"He's got no imagination, that's his trouble," Karen says. "I do all his worrying for him."

I was scared just sitting for an hour or so on his living room, listening for the crunch of boots up the pavement.
3 January 1980

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Switch by Elmore Leonard (Bantam Books 1978)

"Yeah, he's all right," Louis said. "I'm waiting there about two weeks in Brownsville, McAllen, finally I said fuck-it, I'm going home. But by then I didn't have any money for gas. So I said okay, I'll go out and pick melons for a few days, maybe a week. See, the only reason I was down there I was fucking desperate and this grass was gonna make it, get me a stake. So I sign up at a place, Stanzik Farms, go out and start picking and they call a strike. Actually the strike was going on and I was hired like as a scab, buck sixty an hour. We were out in the fields and the ones on strike were up on the road forming a picket line and this Chicano girl with the union would yell at us through a bullhorn. She'd yell like, 'Vengase! Para respecto, hombres!' 'Come on, for your self-respect.' There'd be police cars there, these hotshot troopers with their sunglasses, chewing gum. Never smile. I think they teach them that at the academy. You're out there, never smile, trooper, show you're a human being, man. Some company people, a foreman, came by there in a pickup truck. Then this Chicano girl, Helen Mendez"--Louis grinned, shaking his head-- "she was something, she'd start calling the names of people she knew out in the field, asking where their dignity was, using that word, dignity, and their respect for justice. She'd say, 'Look at your friends here on the picket line, going hungry for the sake of a just wage.' You should've heard her; she was an actress. And pretty soon some of the pickers they'd be looking at each other, and you'd see them take the sacks off their shoulder and come out of the field."

"And you were one of them," Mickey said.

"And you were one of them," Mickey said.

"Well, I wasn't making all that much and my goddamn back was killing me, that stoop work, Jesus-- so I thought, Well, join the union. They looked like they were having a better time than we were."

"They sent you to prison for striking?"

"No, not for striking," Louis said. "See, they started running the company pickup truck up and down the road past the strikers, giving us a lot of dust and kicking up gravel. Then when the girl, Helen Mendez, would start calling names over the bullhorn, the pickup truck started playing music-- see, the radio was hooked up to a speaker on the roof of the truck--blaring it out so nobody'd be able to hear her yelling their names. I remember, I even remember one of the songs was Falling Leaves, Christ, Roger Williams playing it. And Who Can I Turn To. Helen Mendez'd yell at the truck, 'Hey, you squares, get XECR Reynosa!' You want me to light another one?"

Mickey blinked. "I think I can feel it now."

"Get up and walk you'll find out."

"I'm too comfortable."

"We'd sit out there on the line, this trooper with his ranger hat on'd come along make us get up and stand so many feet apart and so many feet from the edge of the field. We'd say, 'What the fuck do you care if we sit down?' He'd give us this mean squinty no-shit look and point his stick and say something about hauling our ass in if we gave him any mouth. He didn't say nothing to the Stanzik foreman who'd come by in the pickup seeing if he could make us jump back out of the way. I remember the radio was playing Okie from Muskogee--you remember it?"

"Sure," Mickey said. "Merle Haggard."

"How come you know it?"

"I've got a radio too," Mickey said. "I'm not bragging, but we've got about five and only one of them, the one in the kitchen, works."

"I'll fix 'em for you," Louis said. "I was in the Navy. I was a Radioman Third."

"And a melon-picker for half a day," Mickey said.

"Not even that," Louis said. "This truck comes along playing Okie from Muskogee blaring out and some of the strikers they'd hold their signs out in the road and raise them as the truck skinned by. So the foreman got pissed-off, he decided to skin us a little closer, make us jump, and the truck hit this old man, threw him about thirty feet down the road and into the ditch. I saw it, I saw the truck swerve at the man deliberately. Everybody ran over to where he was laying there with his broken leg. The trooper came over, taking his leather book out, and you know what he did?"

"What?" Mickey said.

"He gave the old man laying there a ticket for obstructing traffic."

Mickey thought of the security girl with acne at Saks Fifth Avenue.

"I asked one of the strikers if I could use his car to go into town," Louis said. "I had to get out of there, go someplace maybe have a drink. He said sure, for a dollar. I got in the car, started up the road and there was the foreman standing beside his pickup truck with the door open. I think it was the way he was standing, hand on his hip watching, not giving a shit, you know? I gunned the car at him. I just wanted to make him jump, the son of a bitch, but I cut it too close, took his door off and broke both his legs."

"God," Mickey said. "What happened?"

"Everybody cheered," Louis said. "I was arrested, charged with attempted murder, plea-bargained it down to felonious assault and got two to five in Huntsville. Served thirty months, same amount of time I was in the Navy, and I'll tell you something. Even being at Norfolk, Virginia, I liked the Navy a little better."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Last Mad Surge of Youth by Mark Hodkinson (Pomona 2009)

Woody was one of the few who lived with his real dad. Barrett had christened him 'Luigi' after calling round one day and finding him wearing the coolest sunglasses he'd ever seen. The rest of his apparel was strictly dads' stuff of corduroy trousers, patterned cardigan and Hush Puppies. The glasses, though, were straight out of The Godfather.

Carey recalled that Luigi had driven them to their first proper concert - Hawkwind at a large concert hall. On the way there Luigi spoke gravely as though they were preparing for war: don't talk to anyone; keep a good grip on your tickets; go two at a time to the toilets; leave a few minutes before the end to avoid the rush; if anyone steals your seats, tell the usherettes. Woody told him they didn't have usherettes at gigs, unless that was the name of the support band.

"Well, you know what I mean, whoever's in charge."

Woody sad no one was in charge. His dad told him to stop being a clever arse.

Soon after they entered the hall, a skinny bloke ambled on to the stage carrying an acoustic guitar. He began singing caustic songs about pregnant teenagers and getting beaten up on council estates. The crowd was in uproar. People left their seats and moved down the aisles to get closer:

"Fuck off."


"Get off."

Barrett, Carey and Woody went to the toilet. While they were standing at the urinal they saw a dishevelled longhaired lad turned slightly to the side, fiddling with himself. Woody wasn't shy:

"What you doing?"

He turned around.

"I'm trying to piss in this bag."

He had a crisp bag, half full of piss. He was drunk and struggling to hold it, splashing the floor and his shoes.

"What are you going to do with that?"

"Wuzz it at that bastard on stage. He's lucky it's just piss."

He turned back to the job in hand before looking over again.

"How old are you lot?"

"You look about nine."

Carey and Barrett noted the name of the bloke with the acoustic guitar billed as a 'punk-poet' on the posters: Patrik Fitzgerald. They were going to buy his record, the one about having a safety pin stuck in my heart, for you, for you.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Blackburn, a Novel by Bradley Denton (Picador USA 1993)

Blackburn was surprised that it was so easy. He hadn't thought he would be able to shoot another man. But here was Number Two trying to pull on his pants. The man was big, and his footfalls shook the telephone on the nightstand. A hole in his stomach pumped dark blood. The blood glistened on the man's skin, on the bedsheets, on the floor.

The woman on the bed was screaming. She scooted back against the headboard and stuffed part of the top sheet into her mouth. She screamed louder.

"Don't do that," Blackburn said. His ears were buzzing from the gunshot.

Number Two pulled his pants up as far as his knees, then fell. The telephone jumped. The man grunted. He lay on his side, and the blood ran down his belly to the floor. The woman continued to scream. Her screams were why Blackburn had come into the room. But there was no need for them now.

"It's all right," Blackburn said.

The woman screamed and screamed.

"What else could I do?" Blackburn asked.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Tales From The Script (2009)

Gone Fishin' by Walter Mosley (Tandem Library 1997)

A lot of people might not like how I acted with that white woman. They might ask: Why didn’t he get mad? or Why would Mouse be breaking his butt to get money out of a poor farmer when this rich white lady would be so much of a better target?

Mouse was just doing what came natural to him. But there’s a reason I wasn’t angry then, why I’m still not angry and why the people of Pariah didn’t rise up and kill that woman: It’s what I call the ‘Sacred Cow Thinking.’

Miss Dixon lived alone out in a colored community that hated her because she owned everything, even the roads they walked on. But Miss Dixon, and every other white person, was, to that colored community, like the cow is to those Hindus over in India. They’d all starve to death, let their children starve, before they’d slaughter a sacred cow. Miss Dixon was our sacred cow. She had money and land and she could read and go to fine events at the governor’s house. But most of all she was white and being white was like another step to heaven...

Killing her would have been worse than killing our own children; killing her, or even thinking of it, would be like killing the only dream we had.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Hateland by Bernard O'Mahoney and Mick McGovern (Mainstream Publishing 2005)

The army seemed the least unsatisfactory alternative, although my friends laughed hysterically at the idea of me as a soldier. They didn't think I'd last five minutes in an environment where I had to take orders. The British Army was the first extreme right-wing organisation I ever joined. Patriotism, or rather a narrow, arrogant, Rule-Britannia, God-save-the-Queen jingoism was rammed down our throats at every opportunity. And, like the other far-right groups I later encountered, the forces of the Crown didn't seem to care too much about the presence of criminals in the ranks.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

The People of the Abyss by Jack London

These people who try to help!  Their college settlements, missions, charities, and what not, are failures.  In the nature of things they cannot but be failures.  They are wrongly, though sincerely, conceived.  They approach life through a misunderstanding of life, these good folk.  They do not understand the West End, yet they come down to the East End as teachers and savants.  They do not understand the simple sociology of Christ, yet they come to the miserable and the despised with the pomp of social redeemers.  They have worked faithfully, but beyond relieving an infinitesimal fraction of misery and collecting a certain amount of data which might otherwise have been more scientifically and less expensively collected, they have achieved nothing.

As some one has said, they do everything for the poor except get off their backs.  The very money they dribble out in their child’s schemes has been wrung from the poor.  They come from a race of successful and predatory bipeds who stand between the worker and his wages, and they try to tell the worker what he shall do with the pitiful balance left to him.  Of what use, in the name of God, is it to establish nurseries for women workers, in which, for instance, a child is taken while the mother makes violets in Islington at three farthings a gross, when more children and violet-makers than they can cope with are being born right along?  This violet-maker handles each flower four times, 576 handlings for three farthings, and in the day she handles the flowers 6912 times for a wage of ninepence.  She is being robbed.  Somebody is on her back, and a yearning for the Beautiful and True and Good will not lighten her burden.  They do nothing for her, these dabblers; and what they do not do for the mother, undoes at night, when the child comes home, all that they have done for the child in the day.

And one and all, they join in teaching a fundamental lie.  They do not know it is a lie, but their ignorance does not make it more of a truth.  And the lie they preach is “thrift.”  An instant will demonstrate it.  In overcrowded London, the struggle for a chance to work is keen, and because of this struggle wages sink to the lowest means of subsistence.  To be thrifty means for a worker to spend less than his income—in other words, to live on less.  This is equivalent to a lowering of the standard of living.  In the competition for a chance to work, the man with a lower standard of living will underbid the man with a higher standard.  And a small group of such thrifty workers in any overcrowded industry will permanently lower the wages of that industry.  And the thrifty ones will no longer be thrifty, for their income will have been reduced till it balances their expenditure.

Monday, January 02, 2012

How To Rob An Armored Car by Iain Levison (Soho Press 2009)

Mitchell Alden had been born with a number of gifts, but overshadowing them all was the Curse of Poor Decision Making. It was genetic. He remembered sitting in the kitchen in the house where he grew up in Queens, listening to his father talking to his business partner, who wanted to get out of the indoor air-cleaning business and invest in computers. "Dammit, I don't know how long this computer fad is going to last," he remembered his dad saying, trying to talk his partner into staying with selling Smoke-Eeters. "But as long as I'm alive, people will be smoking in bars in New York City."

These words turned out to be true. Mitch's dad died on the Long Island Expressway, six weeks before the ban on smoking in New York City bars went into effect, because of another error of judgement, this one involving a tractor trailer's stopping distance. Mitch carried on the family tradition by joining the army and getting kicked out six weeks later for failing a drug test, then going to community college and majoring in English.