‘Embarrassing’, ‘humiliating’, ‘the worst defeat in our history’. In some contexts- perhaps. But that is not the way I feel this about last night. I actually feel quite different this morning. Or perhaps indifferent. But I do feel angry, and it’s not just towards a spineless display by footballing countrymen who play at the highest level. It’s towards, as usual, the sense of superiority that defines the nationalistic attitudes of some within England.
As the match evolved last night, above and beyond the frustration that was felt about our players being unable to penetrate the defensive wall that the Icelandic defence became, I was distracted by a piece of commentary that compared the game to the San Marino match of 1993 where England went 1-0 behind in the first few seconds of the tie- coming back to eventually win 7-1. It took time, was the suggestion. One gets the impression that we would have needed a lot more than another half an hour this time. Another match perhaps. It was even suggested that Iceland were now firmly stuck in their half for the duration. Yet they were the ones who came closest to scoring in the second half.
Clive Tyldesley’s comparison of this match merely summarised the sense of entitlement that many feel, and Europeans justifiably mock. Here was an Iceland team that had seen off the challenges of Hungary, Austria and Portugal in the previous group stages. They have beaten the Netherlands home and away in qualifying, got the better of the Turks over two legs, and equalled the Czechs. A group England would have found a challenge. But, no. Were they minnows, cannon fodder, and an easy passport to our rightful place in the Quarter Finals ? Were they were a necessary inconvenience to our rightful passage ? How awful that they had the gall to beat us. Absurd, haughty, language and ideology.
It’s time, in the light of all that has happened recently, to think of ourselves with a little more sober judgement. It’s time to stop assuming that distant history gives right to an elite status in the present age. Whether this is on a sporting stage or a cultural one. For me, last night was a summary of much of the happenings of the previous week. There was an assumption that somehow it was our divine right to proceed on our own terms and with preferable accommodation from others, and now we face uncertainty and soul searching. I’m a very patriotic Englishman, my chest was pumping with pride at the recent Rugby Union series win in Australia. But my love for my own country doesn’t invoke an elitist attitude towards others, whether ‘smaller’ or not. Once we stop becoming drunk on the instilled heroics and muscle flexing of the distant past then we might be able to pave a better way.
On Friday I expect the United Kingdom to learn that nothing has changed. We will still be members of the European Union.(EDIT: How wrong I was) The sky will still be there, the sun will still shine, our buses will still turn up late, and Southern Railways will still be running a dreadful service.
Over the past four months our television screens and Facebook feeds have been full of the latest ‘news’ from the debate for the 23rd June EU referendum. And it hasn’t been ‘healthy’ as we all hope such debates will be. Neither has it been ‘news’- for little has changed. Figures and opinions have been sought. These have, for the most part, not been to gain a fresh understanding but merely to underline an entrenched point. These have often been shared without investigation or thought. Such is the price we have to pay for evangelising our conditioning to a wider society.
The vitriol and the delineations- often born of emotional servitude to the conditioning of cultural attitudes- have soured what should have been an honest debate about the future governance of not just this country but beyond. The four-month campaign has done nothing but entrench lingering attitudes about groups within humanity- and that includes Britons. Unfairly people have been tarnished with labels they haven’t courted. If you vote ‘out’ you are a racist, if you vote ‘in’ you are a traitor. In reality, for most, none of these are true. This is what people do when they are unable to make a point through reasoning and depart from their own sensitivities. This is what people do when they refuse to challenge their own mindset. At times we all do it.
I hope this hasn’t set, or perhaps encouraged further, a trend within society. I am fearful of a Europe, nay a world, that is continually poisoned by dangerous and tribal rhetoric, which influences the most vulnerable of minds. I am also mindful of how multi-culturalism can in reality be a time bomb of plural mono-culturalism that has been contained, festering, and in some places has began to blow. I have negated to use the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ here. It is a containing political term that merely fuels the labelling of beliefs and attitudes that should really be more fluid.
The majority of international society wants the same thing. To be free of war, to feed their families, to look after their loved ones, to work and have the resources to enable choice. A simplistic view, perhaps, but an honest and real one. They have different ideas of how to achieve it though. But sometimes I despair of the cultural conditioning and the desire to instil the skewed lesson of history, as taught from a tribal point of view, upon the next generations. The world is becoming a more dangerous place. We are better not putting up walls, unless, of course, we care little for the lot of others.
This period of time was an opportunity to look at the structures and institutions of our wider society, beyond these shores, and ask how we make the playing field level. Or, indeed, how we have no playing field at all. Instead it has sown discord, division and isolation. We had an opportunity to embark on some soul searching and deep questioning of how we view the world. Instead our leaders reinforced our fears and prejudices. And like fools many of us have played along.
Like clones, conditioned by evangelical indoctrination, yet sub consciously disbelieving, they sit stupefied staring at plain screens made ecstatic by a profusion of colour, yet listing a soulless directory of names, numbers and abodes of hundreds of faceless prospects.
A cacophony of voices, synthetically enthused by fear of failure, resonates round a characterless room which matches the sallowness of its obedient occupants.
You in your small corner and I in mine.
A supervisor, the exam room monitor, the policeman of the workplace, slowly meanders around the battery cages. His encouragements, admonishments and assessments, driven by fear of reprisal.
A creative thought, a dissenting voice -they have no lodgings here. Legalistic ideology made complex by its practise. Conform and succeed.
Yet those who endure take leave of themselves, sentencing their souls to a half life of secure mediocrity. What drives those who stay? ..the fear of something that isn’t driving them..drives them to stay…..
The ‘Leave’ campaign faces an uphill struggle to win the hearts, but not the minds, of some undecided British people. And this is where the vote will be won..
I love Europe, I love being European. As I’ve often said, our village is our world, and ever since I was a boy meeting with people from far away shores has always been a thing of excitement and wonderment. New stories to hear, cultures to learn about- a wider world that opens up simply through an encounter with one of its inhabitants. When I was seven or eight years old I could name most of the flags of the world and more Capital cities than not. One of my closest friends was Ghanaian, another the son of a Chilean exile. I had no prejudice beyond that which was inherited.
Around that time the residents of the United Kingdom endorsed its membership of the European Community. For many years it was hardly a subject of debate and was often viewed as toothless and with much ridicule. Whilst the prospect of encountering more people from your yonder shores would have been most appealing to this internationalist child it wasn’t going to happen. In the subsequent 40 years much has changed.
On June 23rd, in contrast to those silly and meaningless elections we once had, the most pivotal vote of our lifetime needs to be cast. Does the United Kingdom withdraw its membership or not ? As things stand I think we will be staying, but those wishing to leave have an open shot at victory- if only they can purge the enemy within.
Contrary to belief of many, possibly encouraged by a seemingly xenophobic right-wing press, the British are mostly accepting of ‘foreigners’. Historically the nation has been built on periodic influxes of migrants. This is not to say that there have never been cases of terrible discrimination, and sometimes outright hatred, but the source of this has often been miss-information (to use a polite term) and unrealistic fears. Again, we need to question where the sources of this arise from, and in most cases it’s certainly not experience. I’ve always said that prejudice comes from one of two sources, experience or indoctrination-and it’s mostly the latter.
Recent generations, certainly in the last thirty years, have grown up with different cultures, creeds and colours around them. There has been a degree of assimilation into which most have bought. For most the issue of the membership of an ‘ever closer’ European Union has not become questionable due to a distrust of all things foreign- it has been about a distrust of undemocratic and hidden processes. As the great Tony Benn once said of leaders: In the course of my life I have developed five little democratic questions. If one meets a powerful person–Adolf Hitler, Joe Stalin or Bill Gates–ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system
And for many herein lays the rub.
I would say that a majority of people have great reservations about the authority, power and construction of the European Union. A heavy and suffocating layer of an already top heavy and un-sociocratic process of legislation on our existence. This is not say they are anti-Europe, I for one am pro, but they are concerned that a commendable prospect has become an ugly product. Yet despite these heavy doubts they will still vote to stay. Why ? Simply because they are not racists or xenophobes- and they are also fearful of what this nation will be like socially and economically hence.
The problem that the ‘leave’ campaign will have is the headlines that will undermine its argument that their campaign is not that of Little England- and doubtless for most it isn’t. I don’t support their campaign at present, but if they can put forward a credible and reluctant sounding argument against the structure and composition of a failed European model, whilst stressing the values of co-operation and warm friendship, they must just win a large number of people over. If they can stress that it’s not the European people they have a problem with, but merely the unreachable processes of the undemocratic halls of Brussels, they may just succeed.
I would rather the nation stay and be part of a unified and forward thinking Europe. One that looks after its poor, protects its workers, and affords rights to all as equals. I fear that a splintered and slowly dissolving United Kingdom wont deliver that. I lived during the Thatcher years. And with Scotland leaving the Union, increasingly likely in the years following a ‘leave’ vote, I worry those days could return.
We live in interesting, and a little worrying, times. Depending on your view, of-course.
In 1970s, whilst growing up as a child in Brighton, I knew little of politics or conflict in the outside world. It was not that I was sheltered or without a thirst for learning. By the age of nine I could identify most of the flags in the world and could probably tell you where countries were as well as their Capitals. I had an insatiable desire to understand what lay beyond the borders of my existence. There were good reasons for this, and my experience of refugees and immigrants in Brighton was most of them.
A very good friend of mine, in fact thinking about it, two friends of mine are from Ghana. This former British colony on the west coast of Africa has always been a subject of fascination to me long before I met these folk. The reason for this was a mischievous little boy I made friends with whilst I was at school in 1976.
Fidel was Ghanaian, possibly a refugee, and we quickly became friends. But this friendship wasn’t greeted well in every quarter. It was once suggested to me, as a child, that ‘If you see the white in a black man’s eye you should run’. This term was probably a hang over from the deeper colonial days. Sadly I grew up with a deep suspicion, inherited, and not born of experience. My view of racism is that it is inherited or formed from isolated and traumatic experience. I once challenged a South African friend to tell me why he had such a poor attitude towards black people- had he had a traumatic experience at someone’s hand ? “Yes”, he told me, “I was held up at gunpoint”. My view is that is better to engage than judge. We then had a long conversation and his thinking seem to be altered. We are all shaped by our experiences in some way, and it takes a long time to offload them. Coming back to Fidel, he wasn’t around for long I seem to remember, but it set me on such a journey for knowledge beyond my sphere that I often recount it to others.
A couple of years later, whilst in Junior School, I made a new friend. He was born in Santiago and came to England when he was at a very young age. All I knew was that he was a refugee. Apart from that the details are sketchy, except that in later life, when remembering this time, I realised that the Pinochet regime was the most likely cause of us crossing paths. I know, like kids do, we went round each other’s houses for tea. I met his parents and would have asked them all about the country of Chile. It was learning, it was food for my inquisitive nature. Around the same time my Mum, a childminder by occupation, looked after a little baby called Manaz, the daughter of a Sudanese exile. And as I grow older so the stories keep coming- but it hasn’t made me a lifelong campaigner for the rights of refugees, despite being well versed in the work of the Refugee Council, and it hasn’t made me donate lots of money to organisations that support them. Possibly for the same reasons as many others.
When I first saw the image of the Syrian child laying lifeless on a Turkish beach this week I was genuinely shocked. But frustration would probably be a better word. There are many images coming out of Syria and other places that show the corpses of children. And they have been doing so for many years. But our news is our world. We rarely see them, unless we take an interest in international affairs. Even if we do, the feeling of helplessness that ensues, and complexities of the environment that those people inhabit, causes our minds to turn away to something far easier to digest. I completely understand this pattern of behaviour, If I didn’t I would be a hypocrite.
Despite having been a keen subscriber to the ideology that our village is our world, I often feel snug away from the upheavals and turmoil of existence in other places. Apart from a mild piece of outrage at an incident that might merit three minutes on the BBC news, or indeed a picture such as published this week, I don’t really think or react to them much. But I wish such injustice didn’t happen, naturally. I just find myself rapped up in dramas of my own- the changes to my local bus route for example, or the fact that I can’t afford a season ticket for the Albion this year. I doubt whether I am alone. Concern and sacrifice are rarely bedfellows.
My thoughts on the events of this week, the change in media rhetoric, the promise of action from our Government, are not as hopeful as those of others. This is because we live in a society that has a subtext of influence that comes from a micro group of its whole. Granted, I suspect this crisis will not disappear easily- certainly not for those who are being forced into action in its dealing. But the public view of these events afar will be influenced by the reporting of them- and I wonder how conciliatory those headlines will remain. Seeing some of the newspapers under right-wing ownership, and we know their views on migrants (I deliberately use that word, even though it is not the right term, as it is their word) this week has caused me confusion. This change in tone is to dramatic to be permanent, and my hope that this graphic and so heart rendering would bring about a new view of our responsibilities to the outer world may seem to have been realised, yet my doubts remain.
As a child I was excited by flags and the names of countries. I even learnt the population figures. But for me countries were just defined by lines on a map, not a lot different to all the county borders that I learnt around that time. I thought that travelling from one place to another was as simple as boarding a plane, a boat, or catching a bus. In my mind Chile was no further than Chichester, Ghana no further than Glynde. It was just a place that practicalities suggested that I wouldn’t visit until I was older. To me there was no such thing as a foreigner; there were people from the other side of the wardrobe that I just hadn’t met yet. There was no division of opinion, everyone was the same, some were clearly more fortunate than others- I learnt that at a young age. Such a view was probably similar to that of the small boy that we saw this week, and feel we know so well.
A crisis such as this will always be dealt with through the suspicious eyes of tribal affiliation, however sad we are to see its outworking. I remember seeing a very articulate Nigerian girl being interviewed in Italy after having been safely brought in from a dangerous Mediterranean vessel. A British interviewer asked her where she wanted to go. The answer was the UK, for an education, a job, and a better life. Not an unreasonable ambition- not to me anyway. She was then asked what she thought of the hostility that some folk in Britain felt towards her dream. “I don’t understand (it)” she replied. Well that’s it really, because the seven year old me didn’t understand it either, and I don’t now. Neither did that little boy laying dead on that beach in Turkey.
It’s easy for us all to share his gruesome end with a click and a comment of sorrow and horror.
So what will be his legacy ?
A gifted moment in existence-a priceless experience,
readily accepted without attention or respect.
No light consideration-not a moment to be wasted,
lest the joy of memory be the pain of regret.
He stands at the bus stop, listing like a ship in a North Sea gale.
The plainness of his war torn face hiding the pain of his existence. His aura tells it all…
The splendour of the October sunshine no compensation to a picture of loneliness, in this suburb of relentless footfall.
I’m afraid of being old…..
The bus arrives, like a Good Samaritan, but in duty not benevolence.
A pathetic figure slumps forward- clutching the stairwell like a tortured prisoner climbing the scaffold, aware of his inconvenience to youthful humanity.
Hurried shoppers stair with thinly veiled annoyance at his palsied hands shaking in their search for loose change.
I’m afraid of being old…..
The full cabin of this mobile shoe box offers a single crumb of connection. A stranger smiles and offers a relieving seat…
Conversation in brief, yet relief for the mind- but too soon the bus ends its duty.
He leaves in best haste, and plants his stick to the pavement and firms himself , slightly slipping as he heavies on a leaf, both crisp and sodden.
I’m afraid of being old…..
Pangs of kinship, from pleasant exchange, disappear with the watery autumn sun. Ever distant memory of his sole exchange this day……
He ponders his empty itinerary, and slowly gathers himself.
Then alone he hastens into the encroaching night and tries to harden to the loneliness it brings…..
I’m afraid of being old…..
So it’s election week in Brighton & Hove, and it’s a double rollover. For the first time I can remember, and I stand to be corrected, we are voting for both the local council and the national election at the same time. Double the electioneering, double the leafleting. Even those who aren’t keen on recycling are beginning to have second thoughts. After all, the bins are still overflowing in these parts.
I have a political affiliation, to the Green Party. I’ll declare my interest straight away. But there is an important point to make- It’s not actually that tribal. In fact sometimes I wonder whether it is a good idea to have a membership at all. This is not because I don’t align myself with the values of the Greens, quite the opposite, they are the closest of all to my own beliefs of governance and human ideals- and I campaign for them. It is because I don’t much believe in ‘politics’. I’ll explain…
The problem with politics is the natural human perception of what it means. That natural perception is governed by influence, and that influence is governed by what we see and hear, or that which we are exposed to. As much as we may claim that we are ‘our own person’ it is my belief that as humans we are mostly governed by experience and indoctrination. Some may argue that experience is something that creates individuality, and it may be in part, but it also something that is often approached or happens in a subjective fashion-so is not entirely fresh. Thus, whether we like it or not, the message of media prays on our understandings, and if not the message the mode.
So basically I’ve just given an elongated explanation of how our lives are beholden to media.
So how does the media present politics ? Well, at the place of the lowest common denominator-which is entertainment. At least since the advancement of technological science took it away from its, slightly exaggerated role, as a public service. News these days has become a competitive experience of drama and pantomime. Even the last bastions of principle and solemnity have begun to oblige. In writing this last paragraph I realise that I am having a thinly veiled pop at the BBC. So be it.
He who holds the gold makes the rules. So in a world governed by the propagators of drama and pantomime the politicians dance and play for our entertainment. Governance becomes about presentation and sound bite, reasoned debate is fashioned to the level of Punch and Judy, and those in command become embroiled in an ongoing Boxing match. But, it’s all for our entertainment. For this reason, I don’t see politicians as figures of hate or bile, just pawns in a higher game of those who control the media channels of the planet. I actually feel sorry for most of them, whatever their political persuasion. They can’t behave-normally. What was very noticeable recently is how the BBC described the election campaign as ‘boring’. There you go again, clearly the actors aren’t following the script, or using the props, as they should…
The reason I don’t like ‘politics’ much is that its structure forces me to make judgements of others rather than reason for my values and beliefs. I believe that the less judgement I make of others, and the more I challenge the relevance of my own values and understandings, the better person I am. The current election campaign provides the perfect example of how informed debate is stifled by the requirement to take sides in the arguments, often for the sake of argument, and is programmed to deny us the opportunity to call for a better way. Drawn by the pantomime, the match, or whatever you wish to call it, we take those sides and lose much of our reasoning power. If you are not for us you are against us, and we become a parody of those whom we mock. The relentless and vitriolic campaign material tells us of what to dislike, and who is for us. Up go the posters (I’m looking at one in my window now) and the battle lines are drawn.
So it’s not just the politicians who play games, dancing to every tune that calls them, it’s all of us. And politics is a reflection of life situations that play themselves out every day. In the home, at work, everywhere. We are political, because reason is too rational, and opposes our fears, our indoctrination, our limited and subjective experience, our ability to reason. We judge first, and only ask questions when the error of our ways is pointed out- if our pride allows us- and it takes a pretty powerful arrow to do that. Take a look at the latest emotional outrage in your Twitter feed, how many people ask questions ? –They don’t, they just offer immediate opinion, often without consideration. I know I do..
Supposing, just for one minute, we decided that there were no such things as political parties. Supposing, just for one minute, the politicians decided there was no such thing as policy documents. Now supposing a group of us, devoid of that crutch, sat down in a room and talked of our hopes and fears of the future. Now in that room no one is allowed to make judgements against anyone or anything. They just speak about what gives them hope, and what frightens them, and importantly, after much soul searching, why. One of my biggest fears would be having to change my opinions, but that wouldn’t be necessary if I set aside my judging nature first. As I said, we seem to be taught to build ourselves upon that we which we despise, it’s hard to let it go.
In recent weeks I have found myself defending ordinary people who choose to sit on all sides of the political divide. I feel much better for it. But it’s no surprise that in doing so labels are attached to me. For speaking out in favour of the character of a Conservative candidate I am branded a closet Tory. My understanding the fears of a UKIP supporter leads me to be fearful of being called racist-and so on. Yet all I try to do is drop my cloak of tribal security and try to understand what it is that fuels people’s entrenchment in a fixed viewpoint, rather than judge them by the colour of their metaphorical rosette.
I know there are politicians who wish it could be like that, being forced to defend the indefensible, wanting to make a difference, and wishing they could say what really seems to be correct at the time for them, for all reason is fluid. I believe that most politicians are actually good people, or at least start out that way. No one loses his or her soul completely.
Maybe just for one minute we should lose our rosettes, our firmly held views, and our tribal affiliation to all aspects of our existence. I bet that feels uncomfortable. If it does, then something inside us is telling that all is not well, that we are constructs of our age, and that those we so vehemently rally against may well be wrong, but they are humans like us. And at our most earthly level there is little that separates us.