Friday, 5 July 2013

The Sleep and the Fury - An old man readies for war


So I've been 40 just over two weeks now and I only just about started smiling again.  

I don't know why, ageing has never held any genuine terrors for me before but maybe this time is different. For the first time you’re aware that the clock is on and it’s already been running for some time. You’re not the next big thing anymore, you are what you are and maybe about to step into the queue for the downhill ride of your life.

There’s also other cumulative factors too - lack of sleep, hard work, emotional stress from being apart from Stacey and looking after Vince despite my parent’s much required and admired help, bright light streaming into the room far too early and remaining far too late and maybe too much tea, which in turn allows me to eat too many bisuits.

Also gradual reassimilation into the currents and eddys of everday British life, like trying to join in a dance if you’re one step behind and need to catch-up.  One thing that has taken me by surprise, and not pleasantly, is a general hardening of attitudes and rising meanness amongst people.  I can understand why. Hard economic times mean people are uncertain and like to look around for easy solutions or scapegoats. If they are misinformed or ill informed by higher powers with agendas of their own, then you can see it play out in action.  

Immigration being a case in point.   From the rhetoric about skivers v strivers, and every sentence being peppered with adjectives such as ‘hard working’ and ‘british’, than anything falling outside that definition is easy to be viewed with suspicion and at times downright hostitlity.  Look at any coverage on migration these days and see the accompanying pictures and language used.

They won’t be of Jose Mourinho or Robin Van Persie but most likely niqab or sari wearing women pushing buggies. Look - they’re different from you, their names sound funny, they might have more kids than you (that you’ll pay for!) and you just know they’re up to no good in those funny looking temples of theirs.   Lay on a strong foundation of suspicion, mistrust and deceit and then it’s ideal to build a restrictive and discriminative platform on top.  

Minimum income requirements for anybody wanting to bring non-EU dependents to the country? Great.  £3000 bonds for visitors from certain countries to come to the UK, because lots of ‘them’ run away when they’re here? No problem. Charge non-EU visitors or residents to use the NHS? At last. Obscene official tweets and alarmist research? Gotcha.  Taken individually, the above measures, of which there are many more, and these are just aimed at immigrants. Taken individually, each one is a mean-spirited, dog-whistle low political headline grabber, but taken together, is an official assault on a group of people without the profile, voice or funds to fight back. I’m not going to address similar campaigns against the disabled and the unemployed, but you know it’s happening.

No wonder my feelings of lethargy and acceptance are rapidly being replaced with aggression and belligerence. As the country I loved and always tried to greet previous difficulties with a shrug and a smile replaces it with an officially sanctioned shove and a snarl.
Churchill, that most British of icons and symbols who was himself a product of an international relationship, with an American mother, said “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

Maybe I’ve spent too long ducking and keeping my head down, making nice, turning the other cheek and letting it lie. All you’re doing is allowing knucklebeaks and worse to prosper by silent acquiescence.

Maybe it’s time to take two of my mentors words and act on them: ‘We can all be little Tom Paine’s. Changing a little bit of history at a time by being the first in the room to say ‘That’s not right - we’re not standing for that. So everyone else goes, their saying exactly what I was thinking.  If Tom Paine has one thing to say to us it’s: Make A Fuss’. That and woe betide any fucking moron dumb enough to start on about ‘bloody immigrants’ in my actual or virtual presence.

The 20s are about establishing an idea of the self, the 30s are about building and actualising it. Maybe the 40s are about fighting for it and defending it. The righteous sound and fury may fade, especially as I get more sleep, but as long as the fire doesn’t go out then at the very least I won’t be disappointing myself anymore. 

Time to suit up, not shut up.

Update 1 - Who's Tom Paine? Only the most influential English writer on American culture and society. Sorry Chris Hitchens.

The Mark Steel Lectures: Thomas Paine - made by the glorious Open University