Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 Satanomics



I learnt a brand new word last week - "precariat". This refers to the social class whose existence is entirely frameworked by a lack of predicability or security regarding employment. Of course in the thriving metropolis of New London no middle class person would ever be found in this essentially post-working class social milieu - therefore I do not officially exist nor do the majority of my friends and colleagues who all work in what would still be considered middle class white collar professions by any broad North West European term of reference.

Discussion of the perfect storm parameters of modern British life has been a mainstay of this blog over many years. In turn this of course has been the main catalyst behind the creeping scale and scope of this horror demographic across previously set class determiners. Such radical social change being thus founded upon the most staggeringly unethical banking practices experienced since the Wall Street Crash, population shifts in the South East of England that have not been seen in Europe since the fall of Silesia and East Prussia to the Red Army, the apparent Marie Celeste style-disappearance of the Ealing Comedy proletariat of yore from the streetscapes of London and the greatest middle class insecurity since the last days of the Weimar Republik.

The capital's ability to market the unmarketable fundamentally relying upon the selective blindness of the mainstream media to consider any of the above apart from the ubiquitous scorn for the indigenous chav underclass, the greed-fuelled Ponzi housing scam, the social acceptance that children will live at home until 30 and the Shoreditchisation of slum London for the benefit of European hipsters.

Growing up in Belfast in the Seventies of course the large working class Shankill district two miles from my home underwent a similar perfect storm - political violence, brutal housing redevelopment, urban blight, an enormous motorway scheme affecting its southern boundary with the city centre, blanket deindustrialisation and radical population decimation. In the Seventies alone the population fell from 76,000 to 23,000 alone.

No such long term drawbacks look set however to affect the onward trajectory of the New London Century - with its bread, circuses, gunsmoke and mirrors.  The dense fog of zero interest rates, budget airline fares and a residential culture of transient populations strategically enshrouding the regenerated Factory of Grievances in turn.  Where the past is itself and the future appears clearly written far far away from the rotting public infrastructures, the lack of a productive economic base and the misery etched on every commuter's pallid deathmask face.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

North

Some time ago I discussed the historic football match played at Windsor Park Belfast on 16th April 1975 between Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian Football Association had agreed to take part in the first international match to be played in Northern Ireland after four years of sustained terrorist violence and civil disorder had transported the entirity of  such fixtures to England.

The result was a 1-0 victory for the home team who had provided a guard of honour for the visitors at the start and as against a deafening welcome to both sides from the Belfast supporters. Needless to say that in a period of sustained racist abuse of the Eastern European population of Northern Ireland at present it is well to recall this brave 1975 gesture alongside the Polish contribution to the RAF defence of Ulster itself during the Second World War. Seven Polish Air Force graves lie tonight in Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast and three at Ballcranbeg Cemetery in County Down.

The importance of Ulster sport to both a sense of societal normality and providing an albeit qualified framework for communal bonding has been discussed in earlier posts on George Best and Mary Peters. The entire subject was reviewed in depth in Teddie Jamieson's superb Whose Side Are You On? Sport, The Troubles and Me which was published in 2011.

However the apogee of this social phenomena may well have been reached last weekend with the success of the Giro d'Italia races across Greater Belfast, along the Antrim Coast and through County Armagh into the Irish Republic. This was without doubt the biggest sporting event to be held in Northern Ireland since the termination of the RAC Tourist Trophy competitions in 1955 at the Dundrod Circuit.

One especially memorable piece of television footage captured from a helicopter during the Saturday event was that of twenty or so horses galloping along Carnlough beach in tandem with the cyclists - Carnlough being the home village of current Liverpool Football Club manager Brendan Rodgers. The riders accompanied the peloton at various points on the route including at Dunluce Castle - captured within the centrefold of Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy album - and the equally beautiful ruins of Kenbane Castle on the Causeway coast. The events were held in honour of the McDonnell clan of Antrim who controlled the area in the 16th Century. It represented "safe passage" to the cyclists through Sonny Boy McDonnell's territory of old. It was a marvellously conceived and executed complement to the atmosphere surrounding the entire proceedings.

The endgame battle of history in Ulster looks set to run a complex course for many more years to come. However the success of the Giro d'Italia - and similar moving events in Northern Ireland last weekend marking the sad passing of the extraordinarily brave young cancer victim Oscar Knox - truly suggests that the majority of the people are now fundamentally running ahead of both Ulster politicians and Northern Irish regional politics alike towards an pragmatically inclusive tomorrow. That race has clearly been won.

Monday, November 25, 2013

George Best And Northern Ireland


During the Ulster Troubles, and outside the remit of political actors and those caught up in the violence of the times, only the Northern Ireland comedian James Young would appear to have pro-actively used a significant public profile to plead for reconciliation through the remit of political satire and a folk celebration of working class life.

Conversely, and as discussed in an earlier post, it would mainly be sporting figures from Northern Ireland that appeared capable of winning unqualified allegiance and broad-based support across the sectarian divide. And indeed across the generation gap too if one were to qualify similar claims now associated with the Seventies punk music scene in Belfast and Derry.

Eight years on now from the death of George Best and the affection towards his person remains undimmed across Britain alongside the pride he brought to all the Ulster people during days of anarchy, mass murder and bedlam.

Best the working class Protestant born in a city whose Loyalist gable end walls would often be inscribed during the Seventies with the acronym KAI for “Kill All Irish” yet would be mourned from Dublin to Galway and from Donegal to Cork alike.

Between April 1964 and October 1977 George Best would play 37 times for Northern Ireland and score nine goals in a series of matches which would consist of 13 victories, 16 defeats and eight draws. 16 of these appearances would be against British opposition. These 37 matches in turn were made up of 16 Home Internationals, 14 World Cup qualifiers, 5 European Championship qualifiers and two friendlies.

If mid-1966 can widely be accepted as the start of political unrest with three murders carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force then it can be seen that the majority of Best’s international appearances took place during the Troubles themselves. The international football team even had to play home matches on mainland Britain between 1972 and 1974 because of the scale of violence - Best himself played in the 16th February 1972 match against Spain in Hull for this reason.

The background of civil conflict in Northern Ireland that ran in parallel to Best’s domestic and international career injected a significant undertone to much of the public response to his death in the country of his birth. Best’s passing uniting the men and women of Ulster in the realisation that the ghost to be mourned was not only that of an acclaimed individual but of an often maniacal time shared together which had nevertheless uniquely defined them as one people.

For all the naysaying of older generations of Northern Irish people - about a talent cut short and wasted alike a raft of fellow Celts - for the children and teenagers of the Sixties and Seventies he was indeed nothing more than a defining cultural cornerstone of our lives and has left behind a million memories of genius, skill, intelligence and so much laughter and fondness.

Perhaps in other circumstances another Northern Ireland player could have performed such an act of brazen cheek against hapless England goalkeeper Gordon Banks in 1971 by flicking the ball away during a goal kick and heading into the net – but only Georgie Best could have done it in front of a Cinzano advertising hoarding in the world’s then bleakest grief hole. Likewise perhaps no other celebrity in the history of television marketing could have managed to advertise Cookstown family sausages and Fore aftershave while keeping both professional and personal reputation intact.

To no small degree the former Junior Orangeman and Belfast Telegraph delivery boy from the Cregagh estate would indeed be the sole public figure to supersede Irish political rancour in life and death – the commentaries he made himself upon religious division on the island of Ireland having unfailingly reflected genuine sadness and humility.

For when Ulster almost ripped its physical being apart with butchery for three decades perhaps no other individual contributed so much to help rebalance how others saw us in our time of war - showing the world the kind of people we were and, more importantly, were not.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Breaking Mad: The Reconfiguration Of Reality


A brief coda to October's two posts...

Last week on BBC Northern Ireland and Radio Telefis Eireann a documentary simultaneously transmitted on "The Disappeared" of the Ulster Troubles. The feature included no broad elaboration upon the cases of Robert Nairac or Lisa Dorrian - which fell outside the main thematic remit of republican violence - but was yet an extraordinarily moving reflection on loss and open-ended trauma. As discussed previously it would certainly appear that one specific political demographic in the British Isles is now dictating the historical narrative of the Northern Ireland conflict with extreme prejudice. The core dynamic of the Ulster peace process in turn now seemingly gauged upon an extraordinarily expensive psychotherapy session for certain ideological combatants and individual ex-paramilitary leaders.

Last Saturday in London I walked down towards the Lucifer Tower beside London Bridge and thus beyond into the streets of Bermondsey -  thereafter back to Wapping across the Thames. The four hour stroll yet again underpinning the gathering sense that in modern London the only reason to remain in the high-risk private-sector would be service employment geared towards the very same wealth surge that has changed this city forever in the past seven years. A work colleague knew both Bermondsey of yore and its modern film-set incarnation alike. He noted how the recent infrastructural changes in the district may well have even incorporated dry-cleaning of the local pigeons by way of the scale of radical infrastructural change. In the local Maltby Street gastro-market I did indeed notice that some of the microscopic taster-dishes atop individual stallholders' tables were actually on sale for up to four quid-a-fucking pop.

Across Tower Bridge then and east to Wapping - location of the Small Faces' legendary Wapping Wharf Laundrette in All Our Yesterdays. The three famous pubs on the riverside including The Tower of Ramsgate and The Prospect of Whitby are now surrounded on all sides by expensive apartment accommodation while the views across to Rotherhite (mentioned in turn in Elvis Costello's New Amsterdam) consist of yet more of the same from east to west - the river traffic in the Pool of London itself now dead and gone.

Another good friend recently reflected on the scale of change in London and his own West London locale full of family connections. He noted how one by one they are irrevocably disappearing now - a house where relatives once lived, a church with memories of past marriages, factories where family worked or even pubs they socialised in. A critical mass would now appear to have been reached in his estimation whereby within his lifetime London will be a city with as much relevance to him as Carlisle and his own time for leaving will surely have arrived.

First slum of Europe: a role 
It won't be hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.
And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs,
There'll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains 
For us will be concrete and tyres.

Philip Larkin, Going Going, 1972

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Pain Of Remembrance In Northern Ireland


An incredibly moving edition of Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show today included commentary from victims, victims' relatives and witnesses affected by both the IRA's 1993 Shankill bombing and a subsequent Loyalist attack against Catholic workmen in Belfast prior to the Greysteel murders. The considered reflections upon sectarian division and closure expressed by the bereaved and emotionally traumatised was sobering in the extreme.

Whether or not the resolution of the Ulster Troubles was grounded upon military stalemate or political stratagem it has been generally accepted that the institutional framework in situ since the start of the century would provide social space within which shared remembrance - or conversely a pact of forgetting - might endure.

In the past week in Belfast there have been memorial services for the nine Protestant civilians murdered in the Shankill bombing and in four other explosions along the road over the course of the conflict - the two left dead at the Four Step Inn in September 1971, four at the Balmoral furniture store in December 1971 (including two minors), five at the Mountainview Tavern in April 1975 and another five killed at the Bayardo Bar in August of the same year.

There has also been a plaque unveiled in North Belfast by the surviving 1993 bomber in honour of his colleague who blew himself up in the blast. Despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister has underscored the need for sensitivity regarding the Shankill victims' families - and in fact a public apology from the former IRA volunteer himself at the unveiling - public reaction has been understandably incendiary from the Protestant community in light of the dedication to a paramilitary who died "on active service".

The past few years have seen significant revisionist interpretations of the Northern Ireland conflict emanate from both Republican and Loyalist political sources regarding the paramilitary modus operandi of the period and the socio-political fractures that underpinned the allegedly foregone nature of the conflict as it devolved into decades of mass murder. In a post-conflict Northern Ireland - let alone within a Belfast so fundamentally changed from the Sixties and Seventies by way of depopulation, deindustrialisation and religious demographic - it is now clearly apparent that conflict over cultural determiners and even memory itself has the potential to sow seeds of discord that were meant to have long dissipated from the end of the Nineties.

Hence the past week has clearly underscored the depth of communal divisions within Ulster itself and let alone the sheer moral ambiguity surrounding the requirement to publicly commemorate a bomber whose victims included two young girls aged 13 and 7. The mainstream media certainly needs to urgently illuminate and forensically challenge these revisionist trends with extreme prejudice as they impinge upon the core wider issues of what constitutes victimhood, the unequivocal parity of suffering across the two communities and how the Ulster people can move forward with such toxic historical baggage.

Certainly the constant journalistic refrain that a political mandate qualifies the tone of political rhetoric in play cannot equate any longer with what appears to be significant body blows to post-conflict diplomacy or indeed the fact that such revisionism is now insulting the intelligence of one's political opponents in extremis.