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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Breaking of Modern London

Interesting and long long overdue article in last Saturday's Guardian newspaper by the writer Ian Jack which considered the staggering social consequences of London's current property hyper-inflation as related to incomes in the financial services industry and the city's position as a now global hub for low-risk real estate speculation.

This issue has been referred to regularly in this blog as a fundamental factor in the capital's gathering dissolution and destruction alongside population changes fundamentally censored out of public discourse, the decay of much social infrastructure to the level of the Third World and the literal obliteration of workers' rights in the private sector.

As usual with mainstream media the heart of the dilemma was articulated with much more insight, wit and focus in the associated public commentaries. Therefore apart from the obvious reality check related to where nurses and firefighters are actually meant to reside in the future shock mushroom cloud where people are dieing and burning, one poster noted the ludicrous phenomena in London of hundreds of thousands of thirtysomething (or indeed older) white-collar workers lodged in putrid Dickensian rental accommodation for a king's ransom while holding credible post-graduate qualifications and while employed in blue chip companies. Those same monthly rental outgoings resulting - by pure mathematical default - in no residual monies available for pension investment, debt repayment or basic saving. The dignity of labour indeed.

And now the government help-to-buy scheme arrives to catalyse a further financial bubble atop the biggest Ponzi scam in our country's Wild West history - this alike a self-generating tide of florescent and molten alien spunk in a Sixties sci-fi movie crawling over the leading lady's beehive to eat her eyeballs out from the inside.

Hence life in London World City - essentially nothing more than a really shit version of New York anyway - continues to resemble nothing more than a year long training session for a crucial football match only to arrive at a golf course on the big day itself and be presented with a rugby ball.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Yield To The Night

I recently watched the classic Diana Dors movie Yield To The Night from 1956 about the final days of a murderess pending her execution. The film has dated very well and Dors' performance was seriously impressive. I always remember back in primary school in the mid-Seventies that schoolgirls used to sing a rhyme about the actress that went "I'm Diana Dors and I'm a movie star! I've the hips, I've got the lips, I've got the legs of a star!"

So interesting in hindsight that her acclaim had left that social imprint for so long in light of the downwards trajectory of her career to the dark depths of Swedish Hellcats, The Amorous Milkman, Adventures of a Taxi Driver, Keep It Up Downstairs, What The Swedish Butler Saw and The Confessions of the David Galaxy Affair by the Seventies. The Smiths used a picture of Dors from this very feature on the front of one of their singles compilations.

The film ends with Dors and the prison clergyman walking to the connecting door from the condemned cell to the execution chamber - Dors' character being conscious all along that it was unlikely to be the door to the broom cupboard. This is not unlike the feelings so many middle-aged Britons now have as they look ahead to their remaining years of work and then to some dread half-existence as a pensioner - a total surety that fate is unlikely to be kind if current lifestyle logistics are anything to go by in a society fuelled by The X Factor, mobile phones and cheap supermarket lager.

Hence the toxic labour markets completely disfigured by wage stagnation and internships, a property market scam underpinned by property mega-inflation and the buy-to-let fiasco, a generational apartheid regarding life expectations that is historically unparalleled in scope and a mainstream media not willing to interject a solitary question mark as to where our country is heading.

Time and life security variables alike are indeed weighing heavier than ever now on millions of hard working Britons and where it is hard to disengage oneself from the belief that our own government and political class - to paraphrase Peter Brooke's words which commenced the Northern Ireland peace process in the Nineties - has no "selfish, strategic or economic" interest whatsoever anymore in the entire future of the British people on these islands.