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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Necessary Animals: The indefinability of 'Dark Jazz'

The beating heart of Necessary Animals, its nucleus and core creative partnership, are the musician, composer and musical auteur Keith Rodway, and the multi-instrumentalist, song-writer and singer Amanda Thompson. They are in essence the two surviving members of a five year old musical project that has always been highly eclectic; more a platform for a very diverse range of talents than some static ‘rock band’ churning out songs. In fact while the term ‘rock band’ doesn’t fit them, nor does ‘South Coast alt psych supergroup’, a label literally attached to their eponymous first album in a futile attempt at defining their shtick. (Although they may well be a supergroup). Necessary Animals’ latest album ‘Dark Jazz’ has classically-trained avant garde musician Paul Huebner on trumpet on the opening track ‘Driving Out’, and, like on their debut, the string musicians Camo Quartet are featured throughout. This is not a music that’s easy to pigeon-hole. In fact attempting to do so is pointless, especially if any such attempt is confined to the realm of one of rock’s many narrow sub-genres.

A cop-out definition that comes to my mind is ‘fusion’. However, while the instrumental ‘Driving Out’ has more than a trumpet to evoke Miles Davis, the man who invented several ‘jazz’ fusions, this album as a whole is a fusion of almost anything you can think of. There is a jazz, even a dark jazz, undercurrent heard in the sensibility of some of the playing, but what the hell does ‘jazz’ mean anyway? When Miles Davis invented so-called ‘jazz-rock’ fusion he’d left the established conventions of jazz long behind, other than the fact that he and Wayne Shorter were African-Americans playing brass instruments. On the ‘Dark Jazz’ title track the feel is more filmic than fusion. Keith’s synth treatments orchestrate proceedings while his ‘free jazz’ piano gels intensively with Fritz Catlin’s jazz-style drumming.

The cover artwork of 'Dark Jazz' c/o Necessary Animals' Bandcamp page

This album, consisting of various Necessary Animals’ musical collaborations from 2016-19, isn’t just instrumentation either. Ingvild Deila performs most of the vocals, as she did on the first album just before departing to play Princess Leia for a Disney-produced Star Wars movie. The Norwegian has also contributed some vocals to a third Necessary Animals album that’s currently in progress with various supporting musicians. Her suitably atmospheric vocal contributions on ‘Dark Jazz’ match the charged, off the wall, instrumentation at the core of Necessary Animals. In addition to playing percussion, Fritz Catlin, a founding 23 Skidoo member, mixed much of the album, as he did the debut LP.

Necessary Animals' image for the title track c/o its Bandcamp release 

‘You Took the South, I’ll Take the Twilight Skies’ is one of the most successful musical collaborations on this record. The drone-like interplay of the Camo Quartet’s Laurens Price-Nowak on cello and Bill John Harpum on viola, combined with Keith on synthesiser and Holly Finch’s spoken ethereal vocals, evoke the sound and atmosphere of a south Asian religious chant. Her religious text though was random sections of The Times Literary Supplement and, says Keith’s explanation on BandCamp, the musical inspiration was primarily a piece by La Monte Young (a man who influenced and collaborated with a wide range of musicians including John Cale, one time viola player in The Velvet Underground).

There’s a similar musical vibe on ‘Improvisation 1’, a wholly instrumental piece that was incredibly, as the title suggests, worked up in real time by Laurens and Bill on cello and viola respectively, before the result was mixed by Fritz Catlin. This track has an intense emotionality at its dark core; a soundtrack for a movie almost too unbearable to watch. It evokes a film scene running through the mind on a constant, nightmarish, loop until, eventually, the mood somehow lifts and things draw to a close with a vague, and very ill-formed, sense of hope.

‘Darkness Comes Over the Hills’ will be familiar to some because the song version was on the first album. This instrumental version features Keith and Amanda contributing different piano parts, while Keith is also on bass, and Steve Finnerty (of Alabama 3 fame) contributes some excellent bluesy riffs on guitar. Their combined effect is somehow both tight and loose, expertly and evocatively played with, again, a dark edge that can so easily take you to where you want, or don’t want to go.

Visual artist Lucy Brennan-Shiel adds her voice to two pieces that form a distinct element to this album in that on both she reads text from Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ against improvised music by Keith, Amanda, Lee Inglesden (on guitar) and, on one, even a bowed tree branch courtesy of Nick Weekes. On ‘Fox and Clock’ Keith took an audio sample of a vulpine visitor to nearby gardens, the musicians then weaved their contributions on top, before Lucy read words evoking a canine’s wild and ultimately fatal night while Nick also plays a pine cone to surprisingly good effect. As spoken text on top of an improv, it works. However ‘Bronze by Gold’ is an unnecessary version of a broadly similar idea but is done at much greater length. At over 11 minutes this is the longest track by far on the album. Its atmosphere is killed stone dead when Lucy switches from the spoken delivery that is her forte as a Joycean scholar, to sudden flights of sub-operatic style vocal fancy. It’s not her fault that this aspect wasn’t edited out of the mix. The whole thing put me in mind of the experimentation of ‘Horse Latitudes’ on The Doors’ second album (‘Strange Days’). Wild, even for 1967, it featured Jim Morrison intoning his own (supposedly inferior) text to what sounds (more or less) like improvised accompaniment. At least he, or producer Paul Rothschild, reined that in to less than two minutes.

However this listener’s discomfort with what is only one out of nine pieces shouldn’t distract from what, overall, is a fine musical collection by a fine bunch of musicians. ‘Familiar Heat’ for example instrumentally reworks a track that appeared as an extra on a very limited CD run of the debut album. It ranges, as does the whole of ‘Dark Jazz’, through many different tempos and styles, and features the deft touch of Peter O’Donnell on both guitar and piano and Alan Bruzon, a long time musical collaborator with Keith and Amanda, on ebow guitar (an electronic strings effect gizmo). The album concludes with ‘Snoen Falt ikwald’ (or ‘Snow Fell Tonight’) on which Ingvild sings her father’s lyrics to an accompaniment that includes Alan playing the kalimba, and Amanda and Keith on steel food bowls (natch). Together they somehow successfully acoustically evoke the dark white light of a Scandinavian night. 

Necessary Animals' image for 'Familar Heat' c/o its Bandcamp release

This isn’t the Necessary Animals ‘difficult’ second album. Rather it brings together projects outside of what Keith calls the band’s musical ‘day job’, some of which were conceived of before the first Necessary Animals’ record was recorded. Right now he and Amanda are continuing work on that third album, having just released a stellar Covid era number, ‘Above The Waterline’. Amanda is also very active with her own, highly melodic and highly impressive, indie pop band The Big Believe, while Keith has several film and archival music projects planned. In a sense ‘Dark Jazz’ is a slice of Necessary Animals’ musical history, but it’s no less fascinating for that.   



Monday, October 19, 2020

Pilgrimage to Penge

Penge East no longer seemed like a dream to me now. The first time I returned here as a middle aged man it was as if I was in my own movie; every step carefully measured and every sight and sound visceral. Now revisiting for the third time in as many years, my impressions of Penge are closer to the place it really is now, rather than how I’d imagined it as boy. Yet every time I come back and take in the roads that were my patch, I am still that small kid on a bicycle plotting his way through what are more or less unchanged residential streets. I still felt sharp jolts of memory, flashbacks, deep resonances of those childhood times and the same desperate desire to reconnect with ….something. 

Unlike the last time I visited when I had a fixed purpose – meeting a school friend whom I hadn’t set eyes on for four decades – this time felt like I was running away. I’d bunked off a planned workday and was somehow, guiltily, running home. The first time I came back to Penge I had bunked off college and had a belated rite of passage drink in The Market Tavern on Maple Road whose old street stalls were still in full swing outside. I vividly remember wearing a non-descript green anorak, nervously asking for ‘half a bitter’, and taking as unimposing a seat as I could find: a low stool near the door. It was a busy lunchtime on a market day. 

Maple Road market sadly bit the dust many years ago. Nothing feels busy when I return to Penge now, except my head. Still, there are things that surprise me. Distinct feelings from the past, possibly apocryphal, back-filled memories; memories that my mind has reprocessed in light of all that came after we left. I walked along Station Road from Penge East, self-conscious but less so with each return visit, surreptitiously snapping the odd photo on my mobile. Where were the people, I asked myself, noting the row upon row of terraced houses and an almost ghost like atmosphere. My memories told me that there were always many people on the streets but perhaps this was just a child’s heightened awareness of other kids. Today all the children were in school, but not me. I’d made a point this time of dressing more discretely than my return three years earlier. That boiling hot summer day has seen me arraigned in drainpipe jeans, a colourful Nepalese-made shirt, and a white imitation Moygashel jacket. On this much cooler day another version of the anorak was donned; this time alpine-style red, with regular sized jeans and hiking boots. Hardly inconspicuous among Penge-ites but then, I said to myself, I’m hardly a local really. 

A couple, possibly not much older than me, advanced in my direction. She a wide woman with a walking stick, heavily tattooed; he with assorted carrier bags and sounding like he had ‘issues’. I didn’t want to create the impression of getting out of their way, but a fairly wide pavement was simply not wide enough to enable movement in both directions. I looked right at them and half-smiled; my modest effort at engagement was reciprocated. Clocking Kingswood Hall where, to my disbelief, I’d once won a second hand farm in a raffle and was totally overwhelmed, I looked up behind me and clocked a sign for an old dairy that was presumably long gone even when we lived here, and then did a left into Crampton Road and was reminded of schooldays friends who’d lived there. 

What was the point of doing this again, I asked myself, hitting a deep low within minutes of arriving back. Walking down the High Street in the direction of where we’d lived, I passed my old school, Malcolm Infants, now some kind of academy or other, re-named after a more contemporary obscurity. I located what I’d believed to be the tree where, aged approximately 6 or 7, I had alternated between kissing one of two girls on either side of its trunk, and took a photograph of this imagined shrine to the confident, uncomplicated, young man I might have been.

From across the road I looked at the flat where I had been born and where I’d spent my formative years. I noted that the barber shop signage below looked almost fire-damaged; the words ‘Ossaga’s Unisex Salon’ barely visible compared to just a year earlier. The shop didn’t look open for business.

Born and (partly) bred; 81 High St, Penge (right)

I decided to return later, still somehow imagining that I could blag my way upstairs to what has since been converted into two flats, on the not too Covid-friendly pretext of needing to reconnect with my birthplace. When I had returned three years earlier I had gone into the dentists over the road and asked if they knew whether their building was once the local doctor’s house/surgery. I’d mentioned being born at Number 81 to their total un-surprise and that a doctor from more or less this location had delivered me. ‘It’s long been a dentists as far as I know,’ the middle-aged receptionist told me. That may well be so, of course. I didn’t tell her that the local GP in the 1960s, Dr Jack Redman, had had his surgery and home on or very close to this spot. According to the family legend, the doctor ‘over the road’ had been knocked up at 2 am to save my life. In a fairly common occurrence in those days the umbilical cord was caught around my throat and the midwife couldn’t intervene. It seems I was lucky that the doctor lived so close by. 

Heading into Penge Rec it looked and felt a lot sadder than I remembered. Upkeep was no longer what it had been; resources no doubt more stretched. A place where I’d often gone alone to play still had the look and feel of the old park though. I retraced steps as if retracing key memories, somehow thinking that explanations could be found if, for example, I touched a tree that had stood where I’d played, or where I'd given myself a hernia at the age of 10. I projected on to this space the image of my mother, my brother and me that an old photo has since implanted as a real memory. I could somehow work out where we would have stood for such rare slices of personal history. I am pleased that my father, being the one who took the picture, cannot intrude into that image.

The stone pillar drinking fountain is now a sad relic, but the park benches were still aligned in rows at the High Street entrance. On leaving that way I smiled and said hello to two older ladies chugging on fags; their heavily-lined faces broke into warm smiles and something in me softened as I somehow reconnected with humanity. Walking on I realised that, despite appearances, they could be my age, and were perhaps at Malcolm Infants or Junior school. I am very good at recognising faces though and, not recognising them, promptly dismissed the idea. 

The park-keeper’s house, a detached and mysterious place that I used to marvel at as a boy, is still there, but by the look of the park there is no such person living there anymore. The next door Army Recruitment Centre that I had visited as a boy is now several flats, but an ATC hut around the back connected Penge to a local military heritage, as of course does the First (and Second) World War memorial. I found out later that Penge was apparently the most bombed part of London during WW2. Not a lot of people know that. There had once been a large army parade ground and sheds here storing army vehicles; now there was a modest private housing estate. 

St John’s Church is always closed these days; admission by appointment only (unless on a Sunday, I assume). When I came back a few years ago I’d even rung the advertised number for admittance, but didn’t get an answer. My mind went back to numerous visits to this church as a boy; amazed at its then seeming enormity and dark mystery. I recalled what for my parents (and me) was the embarrassment of me receiving numerous prizes – the result of a day spent at Summer Sunday School - and the occasion when I saw the Reverend Humphrey Newman on his knees, deep in prayer. This was a devotion I’d never witnessed before but that I would personally connect with a year or two after we moved away. I walked up Maple Road again, past the location of the old market pub, now a south-east Asian take-away, and crossed to where I remembered the market itself being. 

This street had once been very alive but now seemed bland. I noted the destruction of the old library, a place of austere learning and churchlike solemnity replaced with a block of flats of some description. The Sally Army building was still in place, outside which I remember an Army band would periodically perform, an unlikely event now. A middle-aged woman in a dressing gown and slippers walked past smoking a joint, then talked to a young guy in a car before making her way onwards. I knew that St John’s School, with its church-like assembly hall, had been razed to the ground many years before, but I marvelled at the trashy, hut-like, classrooms that stood in its stead. I turned on to Croydon Road and sought an escape from the flood of memories by entering a park that I didn’t remember being there when I was a boy.

Winsford Gardens is the site of the ‘Penge Green Gym’ where volunteers ‘workout’ by conducting socially-responsible gardening. On this lunchtime though the local brew crew were in situ, right in its most ornate area. I said a semi-confident 'Hello' and nodded. This brought a kind of acknowledgement but the assembled throng were deep in discourse. I walked around the Gardens, still thinking it had all been an absurd mistake to come back this time. A quiet seating area though enabled me to break out the cheese sandwiches. After a little while a member of the drinking party came past. I stared, defiantly. ‘Hello Sir,’ he said, in a friendly and surprisingly high-pitched voice. ‘Alright,’ I half-gruffly replied, somehow feeling the defensive need to prevent too much of an opening. He wasn’t looking for a conversational opportunity though. His ulterior motive was checking that a location very close by, where he’d presumably stashed something of value, hadn’t been disturbed.

My mood didn’t lift as I exited and walked past the absurd enormity of Ancaster Garage (or rather of the huge, imposing, office tower above it), the place where my father had once purchased a new Vauxhall Chevette (I’d preferred the old Austin 1100). I headed past what had been The Robin Hood pub (razed), noted Sherborne Court, and headed down Elmer’s End Rd, thinking vaguely of the daily bus journey I used to take to West Wickham, specifically to get to a hated grammar school that I’d only spent a year at. Walking past coffee shops and cafes, I remembered the fairly fast road under the railway bridge, and spotted these mementoes.

On this occasion though I only got only as far as Beckenham Cemetery, a huge place that I had no previous memory of. I wanted to find some inner peace but had, perhaps ironically, not chosen the best place to do so. I didn’t realise at the time that South Norwood Country Park was right next door. At this convenient, but now corporatised location, care of the Crematoria & Memorial Group (see signage above), both cremations and burials are easily available. 

One of the former was actually underway when I walked in, under strict social distancing rules of course. The cemetery is a bizarre mix of collapsing Victorian headstones, absurdly ostentatious family tombs, more tastefully simple epitaphs, and tragic memorials to recent, young deaths. One such was a 20-something boxer, ‘Nico’, whose shrine is adorned with his gloves and a mass of loving messages from family and friends. I couldn’t avoid thinking about my mother’s burial just a few years back and what I’d tried to say at her funeral service about the circumstances that had led to her suicide. I thought about the fact that we buried her separately from my father, in stark contrast to the tasteful item (see below) proffered at the Funeral Directors, which was handily located directly opposite the cemetery gates.

The train from Birkbeck station, Beckenham, took me straight to Crystal Palace Park. The urban farm is in the same space where there had been a zoo of sorts before. Although Covid has made it inaccessible for the foreseeable future, it was beautiful to see llamas, goats and sheep together in one place. I stared, and stared and stared; transfixed. The experience connected with the donkey I’d seen there as a small boy. I have clearly missed my vocation. Perhaps if we hadn’t moved away in 1976, I might have flunked my ‘O’ levels and dropped out of the snotty, up-itself, Langley Park Grammar School for Boys, and become a zoo attendant in Crystal Palace Park, although I’d much rather be a herder in the urban farm that replaced it.

I don’t know what ever happened to the life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex but there were still a few of the bare stone mid-Victorian originals dinosaurs left and some new, less interesting, additions. Walking around the lake and emerging where Guy the Gorilla hangs out, my mood was up. I was relieved to see that the toilets were still there, working, and free. The community building next door looked funky, though not as funky as the long vanished ‘Adventure Playground’ where as a small boy I’d summoned up the courage to climb a high platform and fly on a rope and tyre across a virtual forest, and where you could get your face painted by long-haired men and women wearing very colourful, free-flowing, clothing.

Walking down the High Street again, but still avoiding getting close to our old home, I detoured down St John’s Road and went through Queen Adelaide flats. I’d done this walk once before in my adulthood as a matter of facing down old, personal, demons. I think I’d always felt uncomfortable there as that’s where the tough kids hung out, but it was one particular memory that I knew I was still, even now, trying to face down. Back in the day I’d been lippy to a local hard nut when he teased my elder brother and it was my brother who got kicked hard in the shins for it. Perhaps there was a relationship to the private horror that occupied 81 High Street Penge, but I will never forget that my Mum, out of character and ignoring our pleas to do otherwise, stormed right round there, determined to have it out with the lad’s mother. She returned, still visibly angry at my brother’s bruised leg. We though were relieved to hear that nobody had answered the door.

I passed a shop on Penge Lane that had once been 'The Bottle and Basket' off-license, where the somehow refined and ‘different’ owner sold an extensive selection of ales and, probably, wines. I now realise that what I saw as his sophisticated ‘difference’ was probably his Jewishness. Incredible street art now adorns the sides of the old brick bridge on Bycroft Street between Parish Lane and Penge Lane.

I headed down Green Lane to get to The Pawleyne Arms, being one of only two surviving pubs that I remember being aware of as a boy, fascinated as I was with what forbidden pleasures went on inside. I already had my mask on in preparation. Nervously remembering the eyeballing I’d got in here the last time I’d stopped by – the whole reason I was determined to give it another shot this time -  I hadn’t expected to walk in on a veritable party. I was invited to sit down by the barmaid who was taking the orders but without the protection of the Perspex screen behind which the pub manager was ensconced pouring the beer. ‘We don’t have any single tables free, I’m afraid,’ she said. ‘Is that alright,’ she enquired, having probably got the measure of me straight away. But this time was different. I parked in one of the few available empty chairs. The juke box (or rather Spotify) was blaring out ‘50s rock n roll classics to an audience that at first glance fitted that description too. A big, bevied-up, guy started talking to me at the large communal table where social distancing was only a possibility, that is if you didn’t have to lean in to actually hear what was being said to you. Addressing the call and response singing contest taking place across the pub between two good humoured groups of men, the big guy informed me that ‘They’ve just closed the local looney bin.’ The scary thing though, he added, is that 'these guys are all our age.' I looked around and, aside from an older gentleman sporting a white Mac, collar and tie, and a flower in his lapel, this was pretty much a pub of 50-somethings, and they were all getting hammered. 

My first pint of Guinness was kicking in fast. Del Shannon (‘Runaway’), Dion (‘The Wanderer’), ‘Windmills of My Mind’, Elvis… all was bliss. A second Guinness was brought to me. When Tony Bennett sang ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco,’ I thought I would cry. ‘I left my heart in Penge High Street,’ someone sang, but this wasn’t a number for the would-be karaoke singers. In fact there was a marked drop in volume as the punters drank in the exquisite quality of the song and of the performance. Or so it seemed. ‘They don’t write ‘em like this anymore,’ I said, once again trying to engage a taciturn guy who’d sat down near me. He smiled and slowly but surely began to engage. Despite his initial reticence, he began talking to me about his life. A year older than me, born and bred in Penge, he’d kept coming back. He’d worked in Israel with the army, he said, but preferred the Bedouin; decent people who you could trust, he said. He’d worked all over Europe too, Switzerland included. I never did find out what he did in these places. ‘I keep coming back though,’ he repeated. In the meantime the musical standard had dropped. Peter Frampton was unfortunately coming alive again, as he’d first done the year I’d left Penge.

I told him that I was born and brought up here too. This didn’t surprise him, though he twice insisted that I must be either Italian or Jewish. ‘Not as far as I know,’ I said. He denied, without prompting, that he was a drinker but also volunteered that he’d ‘had a few issues today’. Constantly on his feet, very restless, he was either smoking roll-ups outside, or planning to. He seemed to want to confess something. ‘I made mistakes,’ he said. ‘I was in Borstal. I can defend myself, but I want to practise what’s in my heart.’ He told me of a local gangster who comes in from time to time. 'This gangster said to me “I know you’re a nice guy”. That’s respect,' he said before disappearing once again. With an empty glass but a sense that I needed to move on, I headed on out. My new friend greeted me as I went out through the in-door. He stroked the lapels of my alpine-style anorak. ‘Keep strong,’ I said to him, before deciding, finally, to check out the former family home.

Ossaga's, the Afro-Caribbean barbers, was, I was pleased to discover, open for business and, as I took this picture of the wall outside, a friendly guy came out and encouraged me to move their mobile sign for a better shot. Probably happens all the time. In fact there’s great street art all over Penge

Two pints down on a fairly empty stomach I rang the door bells to the flats above and ended up chatting on the street to three young Romanian guys, having eventually located the one who actually rents the flat. His friend works as a barman in a West End nightclub, or rather he did. ‘I was born up there,’ I said, pointing to the flats above. ‘I know to you it’s probably just convenience to live here, but would you let me take a look at my birthplace?’ What the hell was I expecting, the same bed in the same bedroom? He told me that the landlord had told him not to let anyone in at this time. He offered to call him though, if I'd like to talk to him. I should have said yes. However I felt like I had already imposed on these guys quite a bit already. We shook hands. They’re young, but I’m not I thought afterwards.

I wasn’t sure about going to The Crooked Billet this time, but a third Guinness (all had been at the definitely not London pub price of £3.05 a pint) beckoned. The place was dead save two young guys and a young barman playing Johnny Cash via his phone. A middle-aged guy who didn't fit my profile of the Billet, walked in. He told the lads of his relationship difficulties with a barrister girlfriend. ‘You must have it made, bro,’ one said. The Doors followed via Spotify before, at my encouragement, the conversation turned duller, to owner-occupied property. Turned out the middle-aged bloke was the owner of one of the old alms houses opposite that had long since been sold off (Watermen’s Square). We then discussed what pubs, other than The Billet and The Pawleyne Arms, were ‘original’ (my word). More than I'd imagined, it seems, although I'd conspicuously avoided the Farrow & Ball ubiquitously grey-painted gastro pubs I'd noted around town.

The truth of course is that my sense of what is 'original' to Penge is just circa 1964-76. The Crooked Billet has a hall out the back used, in normal times, for gigs, the lads said. This was the site of a coaching house it seems, but otherwise The Crooked Billet is mostly late-19th century with some modern frontage. Its location is older though, and the pub has long lent its name to the junction outside which once hosted a fine subterranean toilets. Polished porcelain and brass, with a black and white tiled floor. As a boy I thought that the caretaker lived in his frosted glass office downstairs in the Gents. Perhaps he had a bed or maybe it was just a sofa that he had in there for comfort as he listened to the football on a Saturday afternoon. I'd thought that he had the best job in the world. Too late for that career change though. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Bury Bus Station and beyond

I arrived at Manchester Victoria station from the sleepier denizens of Whittle-le-Woods near Chorley. Specifically I’d departed for the big city from a bizarre new creation called Buckshaw Village. Village it is not. A large new housing development built around a new railway station and superstore it is. 

Arriving in the heart of the great northern city of Manchester, capital of the cotton trade etc., I was immediately struck by the number of (young) people on the street and the apparent normality of life amidst a global pandemic. The Cathedral beckoned and I figured it might offer safe refuge. Social distancing wouldn’t need to be rigorously enforced in the House of the Lord. I was right about the limited punters, but security was relatively tight. I was taken by the beauty of the stained glass windows, the agnostic humanity of the 'Artist's Statement' by P. Wharton, who made the appropriately-named 'Hope's Last Call' sculpture (below), and a depiction of Christ (see also below). Public displays of Christian iconography can be counted in their millions, but this unique painting, modestly appended to a pillar, moved me in its simplicity and modern reinventions.

I was soon thrown back again into the serried ranks of the fully legal, open air drinking frenzy that the centre of this city seems dedicated to. Unpleasant at the best of times, it seemed downright dangerous now. I decided to get out of town fast, not least as I’d earlier invested nearly a Fiver in a ‘PlusBus’ pass.

I travelled from the centre of Manchester’s last chance saloon boozing orgy to the Bury Interchange via the Number 138. Taking about an hour each way, this was a voyage of discovery, ‘a sociologist’s paradise’ as John Cooper Clarke wrote of Beasley Street in Salford. We journeyed through the outskirts of Manchester, taking in a very different cultural scene to that I’d departed from around Manchester Victoria Station. Traditionally dressed older men of Pakistani heritage, and young Anglo-Pakistani women dressed in variations of hijab. A particularly vocal set of such girls had, from the start been on the top deck of the bus from Manchester city centre, engaging in a war of increasingly loud, hostile and very crude words with boys of, from what I could work out, the same heritage who were positioned at the back of the top deck. The boys kept loudly labelling them ‘racist bitches’, a moniker they rammed home on their eventual departure, thank God, somewhere just before Prestwich. Perhaps the girls were viewed by these boys as being down on their own (and their) culture, or I, as a total outsider, was missing differences of heritage or simply taking their language too literally. As the bus went through Prestwich my drive-by cultural history tour changed from being overwhelmingly Pakistani Muslim and, outwardly at least, ‘observant’, to Jewish, and often Orthodox at that, although this was a Saturday afternoon. The shops looked as modest as the array of Pakistani grocers and barbers I’d seen in Cheetham Hill. Many of course were closed as Shabbat fast approached.

In Bury itself the bus pulled into the impressive ‘Interchange’, a large and very organised bus stop. I felt foreign, not because of religious or cultural traditions different to my own, but because Bury seemed, despite appearances, homogenously northern and working class. Among its many traditionally dressed Asians out shopping, and often unhealthy looking older white men spilling out of a nearby pub, I put my mask away and sat in the main pedestrianised shopping area near the bus station. With my home-made cheese sandwiches I felt more like Alan Bennett than somehow blending in with the other middle-aged white people occupying the public benches. While my thermos flask might have been something Bennett’s parents would have deployed waiting for the homeward bus from Leeds town centre, it was a pretty rare specimen round here. I was tempted by a Wetherspoon’s pub (‘The Robert Peel’), but was fearful of the post-drinking comedown more than the lack of social distancing. Passing a gaudy sports bar, I sought refuge in the nearby Bury Art Museum (and ‘Sculpture Centre’) (BAM). It was every inch an architectural tribute to late Victorian municipal splendour from the outside, and was not really that much different in terms of its content. Upon entry, greeted in a very friendly manner and managed sensibly in terms of logging in my personal details and maintaining distancing etc., I was struck by a confusing array of abstract sculptural images that seemed, in part at least, to to be the product of schools’ art projects. Certainly there were several references and indeed work spaces throughout BAM intended to motivate children to take up or at least be interested in art. They all felt like add-ons though in a desperate bid to suggest that what remains irrevocably, in spirt as well as in name, a museum, is somehow relevant. A tribute to a comedian, local girl Victoria Wood, did little to assuage this impression. In much of BAM, in its tall gallery rooms (see photo below) and up its generous stone staircase, the heart of what still defines it adorned the walls: paeans to the old ruling class, fat generals sat astride struggling old nags, local burghers typical of those whose spare cash helped start the Museum itself, and especially educative time pieces such as ‘The Slave Girl of Cairo Market’, a depiction, bizarrely, of a pretty white girl in what I suppose was an example of orientalist prejudice/propaganda. A huge and perfectly executed oil painting of a slain deer being mourned by, or still breastfeeding, its offspring, was either an unexpected condemnation of bourgeois slaughter sports of the animal variety, or just a soulless caricature of ‘natural’ exploits.

There was a very large space at the top of BAM that on the occasion I visited was dedicated solely to some moderately interesting work by a modern sculptor cum installation artist where I witnessed an over-zealous attendant inform an only partially interested punter of all that was apparently important about this (possibly local) artist. There was space in a stairwell for a different tribute to the Bury local, and former PM and police founder, Sir Robert Peel, than that provided by Wetherspoons. The one and only public toilet in the building wasn’t working though.

BAM is a strange place. Still very much a tribute to Victorian class-ridden philanthropy whose literal legacies probably help to keep it running, with would-be kiddy-friendly and ultra-modern sculpture spaces added on without seemingly much thought. Perhaps any really promising local artists would get the hell out of Bury as soon they’ve graduated from university, but thinking of that large space occupied by just one artist, a conceptual sculptor, I wondered about all the local and totally amateur work that could be displayed there. A floor full of the best work of a local art college’s students might get some punters in from the nearby pubs, some of whom would probably be related to the artists on display, a very unlikely proposition at present. If such open access happens regularly at BAM then forgive me, but my brief experience – I had bowled up just 20 minutes before closing time – suggests a place different to that being bizarrely re-imagined on the BAM website and equally disconnected.

Interestingly, as I exited BAM I spied more contemporary art but of a very public kind. Positioned above Bury Interchange itself, "From Northern Soul (Bury Neon)", by Ron Sliman (see below), spelt out the forced punning of ‘Poetry has been Bury, Bury good to me.’ It was though an interesting antidote to the public art that first greets you as the Manchester bus pulls into Bury: a sculpture of a senior officer from the Lancs Fusiliers marks the 1905 South African Boer War (by George Frampton; see below). I’d be surprised if there was as much pressure from Bury locals to pull that down as there is from some Manchester and other folk regarding the sculpture of Sir Robert Peel in Manchester Piccadilly.

(Photo, left, by Nick Smale). 

                                                                                            (Photo above by David Ingham from Bury)

On the bus back from Bury to Manchester, I was, like earlier, for what this observation’s worth, the only other white male present for most of the one hour journey, apart that is from the very obliging driver. Economic demographics play a role in urban bus usage, hence why there were plenty of elderly white women using their free bus passes. Being a ‘bus wanker’ is though for some an expression of personal economic failure once cited, albeit not quite in those terms, by Margaret Thatcher. 

As we approached the city a man got on who bore more than a passing resemblance to Robert Wyatt. Of course I was under no flashback-driven delusion that this was in fact the former drummer with Soft Machine who'd gone on to make 'Shipbuilding' famous. For one thing the socio-demographic factors in the area didn’t compute, despite the rock star’s professed commitment to public services, including those of the omnibus kind. The most obvious preclusion of this possibility though was the fact that he self-evidently wasn’t in a wheelchair. The uncanny thing though was that he got on somewhere past Cheetham Hill with what looked like a couple of walking implements, one of which he laid out in the heavy luggage section at the front of the bus. The other is that Wyatt has just turned 75; this chap looked 20 years younger, perhaps more, as part of his aged appearance was due to the fact that he was a bit dishevelled and plainly not that healthy. Life hadn’t been kind to him, it seemed. The first thing that struck me, aside from his long grey hair and long grey beard, when he walked on to the bus was that he was armed with a large black note book. Whilst I was musing on the idea of him being Robert Wyatt, I noticed after he sat down a few rows in front of me that he was actually keenly reading what was hidden inside the note book: a section of what looked like a guide to rock music written at least three decades ago with parts marked in highlighter pen. Perhaps he was reading about himself?

Back in Manchester I wandered around the back streets close to Piccadilly and Victoria stations and found myself spying the original Co-Operative Wholesale Society building (right). 
Just around the corner from this, and facing Manchester Victoria station, was the HQ of the Co-op Bank. A large display in its window gave expression to the halcyon days of the Co-Op Movement, topped off by the bronze statue outside of Robert Owen. With a needy child at his feet, 'The Father of Co-operation' stood as a, presumably unthreatened, monument to a Victorian philanthropist and to a different, if not idealistic, time. As the Co-Op Bank's window testament implies, Owen can be claimed for the Labour Movement's traditional focus on wage protection and ending destitution. So far so safe. However his statue, and the accompanying Bank tribute, is also testament to his desire to build a new 'model society' as he sought to do in the New Lanark mill village in Scotland. The Co-Op seems keen to draw on some of that legacy to offset the poor PR of its late capitalist cynicism. A late middle-aged woman weighed down with life and luggage, propped herself against Mr Owen. A great image perhaps, but it prevented me from taking a photo of my own.


            (Photo above by Mike Peel

Heading back by train to the new model society that is Buckshaw Village, the rudimentary socialism of a free public toilet in Manchester Victoria station was appreciated. However it was not socially safe inside. 'We're not even practising social distancing for our knobs,' a local wag drolly observed. 

I headed out of Manchester, passing through the intense architecture around Salford Central, clocking the bizarrely named 'New Bailey' amongst the varieties of old and new brutalism on display. Changing at Bolton the 'heritage' industry was seemingly making a virtue of social apartheid. Edwardian frosted  windows on the station platform included such legends as 'Gentlemen's First Class Waiting Room', juxtaposed with the rather less exclusive 'General Waiting Room', or, further along, the 'Ladies' First and Second Class Waiting Rooms.' In the real world of the present day we usually share the same facilities but social and cultural hierarchies seem as rigid as ever, in Bury and beyond.    



Friday, August 28, 2020

Schitzoid Joe - Lost No More

That journal of 'Swinging London', the International Times, has published my profile of the lost classic album, 'Schitzoid Joe'. Written and performed by Lucy Nabijou and Steve North, and featuring world-renowned sax player Dick Heckstall-Smith, this concept album tackles alienation, abuse, personal freedom and family misery. With its mix of prog, folk, and rock, 'Schitzoid Joe (sic)' should have been perfect for a record company with imagination, even in 1981. However Lucy and Steve were too young and disconnected to get a break. The article also explores the musical contributions of renowned keyboardist and guitarist Nick Bunker and drummer Pascal Consoli, and specifically what happened after they, Lucy, Steve and Dick had completed the sessions at the rehearsal rooms of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. 

You can read the article in International Times, the publication once dubbed 'the underground Daily Mirror' by Alternative London, by clicking on this link. You can listen to the album here.

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Well House Laurie Anderson portal

This morning I was in a Well House near Tockholes in Darwen Moor. It’s reputed by some to be based on an ancient spring that nearly a millennia ago was part of a direct pilgrimage trail to Whalley Abbey. The Well House of today is around 250 years old, like the rest of the remains of Hollinshead Hall, which are mostly little more than stone pillars and foundations. The Well House though is intact, more or less, and the ancient lion from which the holy water of God poured forth, is still recognisable, if a little deteriorated. Incredibly, and luckily, the normally padlocked old wooden door was open. 

Sitting in the calm of a friends’ music room I am journeying once again to that Well House, ancient sanctuary, where, like among the remnants of a mill house near Tintagel in south Cornwall we visited in 2018, one can commune with the past, both long distant and not so far removed. Just like yesterday, standing outside the Church of St Michael and All Angels in Grassington,in the Yorkshire Dales, bathed in the spectral calm of summer dampness, there are many ways to channel ethereal beauty. Such as via Laurie Anderson's album ‘Mr Heartbreak’. Listening to this record now is like reliving an LSD trip. I am in 1984 again, the year of its birth.

‘Kokoku’, ‘Blue Lagoon’; impossibly transcendent; beauty beyond.... Was this how I found an inner path, inner calm, when there was nothing, when, as another album of 1984 almost had it, “instead of doing some good in the world, I’d burned every bridge I’d crossed”? Laurie Anderson went from ‘Oh Superman’ gimmicks, and a five record album entitled ‘The United States’, to almost mainstream, by way of aural hypnosis; electronica in the service of simple, gorgeous beauty. Perhaps there always was a “party in my head” that really never did stop, as David Byrne had it a little earlier. And Mr Heartbreak is merely a portal; a way to open the sanctuary door to the wellhead, to that place, as another contemporary album had it, ‘Across the Bridge Where Angels Dwell’. 

As Laurie Anderson sang, ‘It’s Sharkey’s Day today....On top of Old Smokey all covered in snow, that’s where I wanna, that’s where I’m gonna, that’s where I’m gonna go.’

Monday, February 17, 2020

Patricide and pipe smoke

At one of his few forays into Mr Benn’s public world, Jonathan had arranged the podium from which the politician would speak. Jonathan was keen to make sure that all the necessary items were placed correctly: cassette recorder, back-up cassette recorder, four pens (two ink, two Biro), throat sweets (a spare pack of throat sweets), and, of course, a large Thermos flask of tea.

The tape recorders were to ensure that Mr Benn can come back at the mainstream media who have been distorting if not outright twisting his words for more than a decade (or so Mr B had informed Jonathan). The result was that Jonathan spent several hours in Mr B’s study the next day going through the recordings to ensure that every word was transcribed, and that therefore a permanent record of every word Mr B has uttered in public since the late 1970s, and for the foreseeable future, would continue to be preserved.

Mr B, thought Jonathan, is very exacting. His media image - that of a paranoiac - was obviously a media distortion. He is though understandably careful. Armed with a transcript of what in fact he did say on such and such an occasion Mr B sometimes rang the editor of the offending publication, in person, to seek a published redress. This was after the fact of course, but important for setting the record straight.

Jonathan had in a sense come to the role of unpaid assistant to Mr Benn as a result of his mother. She had originally suggested that he use his holiday time away from the Polytechnic to ‘good effect’ (as she called it). She didn’t envisage though that he would so in this manner. Jonathan’s mother did not approve of Mr B’s politics or of the man himself, regarding him as, well, using a word Jonathan had learnt as an undergrad, an arriviste. It’s strange, thought Jonathan, to describe a man of about 60 in these terms. He recalled his own mother once remarking that she remembers what she considered Mr Benn’s more reasonable phase and the aristocratic title that she believed somehow accompanied that. A ‘gentleman’ who, like others of that class, knew what was best for the country. So why, she wondered, did he have to go and spoil it all by forsaking his name and renouncing his title - and titles of any kind – just to remain an MP?

Jonathan is contemptuous of his parents’ petit-bourgeois reaction: a class ‘of and for itself,’ he thought, wilfully paraphrasing what Karl Marx had envisaged the proletariat would one glorious day become. Mr B though is cautious about the late German philosopher and father of communism. He says that Marx is, of course, in need of proper recognition, and is contemptuous that Mr Kinnock’s timorousness in the face of the mainstream media should make him embarrassed at even hearing Mr B’s proposal that the Party mark the centenary of Marx’s death in 1888. On the other hand, Mr B –  Jonathan cannot get used to calling him 'Tony'  – thinks Marxism has drawbacks – in both conception and practise, and is renowned for saying (or recycling, if truth be told) the aphorism (Jonathan wasn’t sure if that was the right word) that Labour is ‘more Methodist than Marxist.’ Jonathan mused to himself that the ethical, indeed Christian, dimension to Mr B’s socialism gets lost, if not wilfully ignored by the many of his followers that the media label ‘Bennite’.

Jonathan related to the fact that Mr B’s politics were grounded in Christian conceptions and principles. That said, before Jonathan’s conversion to parliamentary socialism, he had been much taken by Mr David Lloyd-George and noted his attack on the Anglican Church as ‘The Tory Party at prayer’ and his related advocacy of disestablishmentarianism. Is Mr B an anti-disestablishmentarian? He can’t be, can he, wondered Jonathan. Anyway, Jonathan had had a Christian ‘phase’ in his last couple of years at school, and still felt its affect.

Believing that Mr Benn was a man of great moral and intellectual authority, Jonathan had decided to offer himself, at the particular prompting of a poly lecturer whose advice he’d sought, as a voluntary assistant to the country’s most renowned left-wing politician. This soon morphed into a pretty time-consuming job – after lectures, and most weekends. He was never paid, but initially at least he had appreciated learning an awful lot about Mr B – or at least as much as the politician was willing to divulge.

While at first Jonathan had helped Mr Benn at a few of his public meetings, Jonathan greatly preferred to be behind the scenes, concluding he could be much more use working in the politician’s cellar, tackling all the transcribing that needed to be done. In fact Jonathan had been working for Mr B for about six months and still hadn’t spent any time in the house itself. Jonathan would sometimes get given sandwiches – sent down by Mr B’s wife (although he doubted that she made them herself). Sometimes the bread tasted stale. He didn’t complain, obviously, and told himself that this was a refreshing change from his own mother’s inclination to let the birds enjoy perfectly edible foodstuffs. I guess that that comes of her serving my father – and a ‘Lord somebody’ before that, he reflected. Things had to be ‘just so’ in his mother’s kitchen and that included the freshness of all the food therein.

Jonathan was working away prior to Mr B returning from a meeting at the House of Commons. The meeting in question was of a supportive party faction and Mr B would be addressing them on the subject of ‘Mobilising the grassroots’, or ‘grasswoots’ as the enemy media unkindly mocked Mr B’s mild speech impediment. Mr Benn had told Jonathan that he could attend this meeting if he wished, but Jonathan declined. Aside from the work, Jonathan wasn’t comfortable with some of Mr B’s admirers. The sense of inadequacy Jonathan felt when in the company of these people, or by avoiding them and the meetings, would be partially offset at least by applying himself to the audio back-log.

Jonathan preferred to be working in the Benn bunker but it also annoyed him. The last time they’d chatted Mr Benn had said to Jonathan that he might like to train another researcher/assistant as part of the team. Their exchange had begun as Jonathan, for once, was finding his own voice, or some semblance of it. He’d decided the night before that he was going to raise his concerns with Mr B. It wasn’t so much the quantity of the tapes, it was that Jonathan increasingly felt that he was being taken for granted. Originally the recompense was time spent privately in a brilliant politician’s company, but when that time had become increasingly rarer because Mr B never seemed to have the time to devote to his own archive, Jonathan began to feel used. If Mr Benn was usually not around in the evening, what was the point of he, Jonathan, being so? He’d decided to simply say to Mr Benn that he found it less rewarding to be working mostly on his own, whether in the daytime or the evening, and that attending his party meetings could hardly put that right.

‘I feel exploited,’ said Jonathan, fully aware of the impact that that word would have. ‘I don’t expect to be paid but to just be expected to churn out typed documents with increasingly less input from you, isn’t fair,’ said Jonathan, who by now was shaking with the impact that being assertive was having, on him and seemingly on Mr Benn who was visibly shocked.

Mr Benn responded not by taking Jonathan’s observations directly on board but by asking if Jonathan felt the need to take a break. This was not the response Jonathan was looking for. While he’d raised the issue of being busy with his own studies, Jonathan did not consider this concern as a signal that he wanted out. ‘Jonathan, what you’ve done for us…..’ began Mr Benn obliquely……

‘Us?’ said Jonathan, ‘Who are the others then?’ This was just the kind of middle class deflection that pissed him off. ‘Mr Benn,’ he said, his voice growing surprisingly loud, ‘I am not working for a party faction, some vague amorphous ‘Left’, or, for that matter, your family. I am working for YOU!’

Mr Benn decided to sidestep Jonathan’s angry assertion.

‘…. What you’ve done for us,’ Mr Benn repeated with emphasis, ‘is profoundly appreciated. It’s a vital contribution to propagating our message.’

Jonathan, in so many words, let it go. ‘Sure,’ he finally said in response to Mr Benn’s repeated suggestion that he take some time off.  ‘I’ll think about it.’ Except he wouldn’t. When Jonathan was really determined his avoidance techniques were actually very good.

The next morning Jonathan knew he shouldn’t round-off his early morning self-punishment, otherwise known as running furiously round Finsbury Park, by visiting that bakers. He feared he hadn’t taken enough small change, and instinctively knew that that embarrassment would probably trigger him. It didn’t take much these days for Jonathan’s interactions, especially with virtual strangers, to induce the familiar fear grounded in him since childhood by his father’s betrayal.
No sooner had he stepped into the bagel shop in the still only half-light, then he was walking a tightrope, negotiating a thin line between rightful strength and pointless assertion. A much bigger man brushed a mite too firmly against him and Jonathan’s poignant ‘excuse me’ obliged the very surprised man to apologise. This was followed by a seemingly interminable exchange between Jonathan and a heavily-accented, presumably Polish, woman over the kind of bagel he wanted/was available/could afford. All because he hadn’t the balls to say, from the outset, that he couldn’t understand what on earth she was saying. He left the shop in an agitated state, simultaneously amazed and oh so predictably proven right in his semi-premonition that he should never have come into this place. Back in his bedsit Jonathan had to admit though that the bagel, lightly toasted and generously coated with Sainsbury’s non-dairy margarine, tasted great.

A little while later Jonathan was very surprised to see that a letter had arrived from Mr Benn:

Dear Jonathan,

You need to understand things from my point of view. When you first came to see me I was very pleasantly surprised as you didn’t fit with the type I’m used to seeing. A student, an undergraduate, yes, but somehow you were different. I was impressed by your in-depth historical knowledge of the Party; a rare thing for one so young. I was also struck that you didn’t either subserviently think it appropriate to defer to everything I said, or superciliously try to inform me of where I was going wrong.

I encouraged you in your quest for understanding, from the inside looking out, whilst believing that you could have something to offer the Party, and in particular to our cause within it and our need to mobilise the youth of our country.  I had hoped that in this particular respect you might be an inspiration to others of your generation.

Yet you have chosen to not properly take up the opportunities I have afforded you. Yes, there is no doubt that you work conscientiously in my study, putting up with the sometimes cramped conditions and the, yes, still unresolved damp problem. Your output has never flagged. However, within a month or so after you began working with me, I noticed that your attitude began to change, to the work, to how you went about it. You went from being a happy embracer of all challenges, to a moody and sometimes resentful, even sullen, assistant.

I like to offer my apprentices – this by the way is how I like to think of you all, in the best tradition of what we offered in Government in the 1970s, not the exploitation that private firms offer – I like to offer my apprentices a chance to hone their education by witnessing politics in action. However, you have preferred to seclude yourself, to keep away from party meetings, and you often turn up at my home in the daytime when I am rarely there. It seems as if you want to make sure that you could work undisturbed by anybody, including me. I am familiar with people who’d rather not be in my company but they are usually fellow shadow cabinet members, not those who’ve volunteered to serve in defence of our cause. 

In the course of our exchange last night I was astounded by what poured forth from your mouth. That person who had been so pleasant, cheery, charming even, could turn in an instant into something quite different. Petulant, angry, and all over such small details. I know that you have of late been struggling with the pace of the work – I have after all been addressing more and more meetings, doing more and more interviews. But for you to think that I, your friend, am exploiting you? I realise the irony in you being unpaid labour, but it’s in the nature of the beast: You work for nothing when you support a political party. The reward comes with the eventual realisation of all that we hold dear.

I believe that both your heart and your head are still in the right place; that, like me, you hunger for socialism – in word and, most of all, in deed. That you understand that all personal squabbles and preoccupations must be put aside in the struggle for the greater good. The individual can and must sublimate their interests and preoccupations to the broader movement of history.

I understand from what you let slip that you have been wrestling with some demons, even though you qualify them as ‘petit bourgeois’. I must confess that I am not familiar with this particular kind of class anxiety, but I know that it has little to do with what we are fighting for. You wouldn’t want to do anything to put your own interests above the wider cause, would you? I continue to hope that we can continue to work together and that, should for some reason that not be possible, that we can conclude this particular phase amicably.

Please be aware that there are other potential volunteers. I say this not to make you think that you can easily be dispensed with, but because even if I was to ask one of them to help us, you would be pivotal to introducing them to the work and to the best methods needed to conduct it. I sincerely hope that you won’t take this to mean that I wish you to depart. You did sound at times like you had had enough of the work. However I prefer to presume that that was only an unplanned by-product of our discussion.

Let us go forward together - in any possible way we can.

Yours, fraternally,

Having received the letter that morning Jonathan turned up at the Benn family house with something of an attitude; one that would only grow more pronounced as the day wore on.

Who the hell was this bloke sitting in his seat, drinking his tea and pissing in his porridge, thought Jonathan at the sight of someone else working away in Mr Benn’s office. Jonathan was caught between a simultaneous urge to flee and to fight this smartly-dressed, stiffly handsome chap comfortably positioned in what he’d come to think of as his domain. It was Mr Benn’s domain obviously, but most of the time he wasn’t there, and in any case Jonathan was increasingly the organiser of his office space. Now there was this well-bred interloper, and up with this, Jonathan wasn’t inclined to put.

He found it easier to give some vent to his frustration, his misplaced anger, at this smoothly attired effortlessly confident young Turk. Deep down of course Jonathan knew that it was Mr Benn who, with only the barest of warnings, had deposited this chapee here. It wasn’t the interloper’s fault that it was so. No doubt Mr Benn has many young middle class rebels queuing up to fuck off their parents, or even threaten their parents with the prospect of a Benn government that would take away their private schools, hospitals, (much of their) inherited wealth and an array of other privileges. It made Jonathan feel good to silently incant these commandments for a better world, just as a few years earlier he’d memorised the best bits from the New Testament. Jesus and the money changers, for instance.

‘Eh, hello,’ said Jonathan awkwardly, holding out his arm stiffly, hoping that the interloper would meet him, or at least his proffered hand, halfway. ‘I hadn’t been expecting anyone,’ said Jonathan with a feint echo, he thought, of an Alan Bennett character only partly opening the door of a net-curtained fortress to an unwelcome visitor.

‘Oh,’ said the new volunteer hesitantly, ‘Sorry about that’ (he wasn’t, thought Jonathan). ‘I’m David….. Tony said to come today as there’s lots of tapes to go through apparently.’

A lot? Bloody cheek, thought Jonathan. There’s precisely three, albeit all full up with one speech and the obligatory audience worship of the (self) chosen leader of the Left. ‘Sure,’ said Jonathan disingenuously, still unable to work out exactly what this imposition was all about.

OK so Mr Benn had proposed that Jonathan take a break, and Jonathan had of late been allowing his frustrations to come out in Mr B’s company. But he didn’t expect what looked suspiciously like his replacement to turn up, briefed to do his work, the very next fucking day. 

‘I’m Jonathan in case you didn’t know. Here’s the tapes I haven’t yet had a chance to go through, he said, placing only one of them in David’s eager little hands. How delicate they were, Jonathan noticed. In fact, loathe though he was, Jonathan focused on David’s cheek-bones too. He was handsome, in that Brideshead kind of way, but without quite the blue chip accent. Minor public school, Jonathan thought.

‘So, is there a machine for me to play this on so I can begin the transcription?’ asked David. ‘Somewhere,’ offered Jonathan with feigned indifference to the poor chap’s plight and increasing discomfiture.

Jonathan’s mood darkened. No, he thought. This isn’t going to happen. I am not going to be put on once again. The woman in the bagel shop, the bully in the bike sheds, this ponce, they can all go fucking hang.

‘Actually, on second thoughts, I’ve already started some of this,’ Jonathan lied, snatching the cassette back. ‘Why don’t you go through the post, or tidy some of the paperwork?’ Wow, thought Jonathan, he had told a social superior to, in effect, do the cleaning. This was alien territory indeed.

David looked blank. Deep down he found Jonathan an irritant, but from what he had understood from Tony, he was probably about to depart, so David decided he’d cooperate as best he could, for now at least. ‘OK,’ said David, ‘I’ll sort the mail. Let me know if you’d like me to transcribe one of the other tapes. After all that was a big speech last night…’

‘Oh, so you were there?’ said Jonathan, once again feeling put out. ‘Sure. Tony invited me and the other Oxford University Young Socialists.’ Right, thought Jonathan. Of course he fucking did. His alma mater, or however you say it. Right now he couldn’t give a fuck about where the ruling class sent their progeny. Still, he mused, at least David’s dad probably treated him ok. Well, apart from keeping him in a boarding school for most of his childhood. There, other men could get at him; probably did, thought Jonathan, musing on David’s snow-white skin.

The two young men went about their mutually-interested business with pretend disinterest. Despite having earlier decided to let his irritation dissipate, David grew increasingly irritated. He’d exhausted the mundane tasks Jonathan had allotted him and was now eager to get into something more substantial. ‘Come on,’ he ventured to Jonathan, ‘Give me a cassette that you’re not working on.’ Jonathan took his ear pieces off, pressed the clunky ‘stop’ button on Mr Benn’s cheapo mono cassette recorder, and looked David in the eyes. Momentarily weakened in his resolve, he decided to focus on his distaste for this entryist.

‘Look, I am in the middle of transcribing these words of wisdom, so why don’t you just read something or file something, or whatever?’ This didn’t go down well with David. He wasn’t used to being talked to like this. Not even his masters at school or his tutors at Oxford; and ‘words of wisdom’? Plainly Jonathan was mocking Tony. How could this be, thought David. Is Jonathan disloyal? Is he not a fully paid-up member of the club?

‘You don’t think Tony’s insights into how to organise workers’ control of factories in a capitalist society are that interesting,’ asked David, angered now and determined to see if Jonathan was really ‘one of us’, or if maybe he was a social democratic wetback who’d hitched his political wagon to the wrong side of the argument. ‘No,’ said Jonathan. ‘I think he’s full of shit.’     
There, I’ve said it, thought Jonathan. Of course, I don’t believe it; well, not entirely. But if this fucker thinks Benn’s the messiah, then I’m with the Devil, he reflected, wilfully mangling Churchill’s famous comment about aligning with Stalin against Hitler.

The two young men stood upright, facing each other in studied appraisal. They were almost squaring up, albeit in a slightly forced, self-conscious show of, well, middle class confrontation.

‘Is that the extent of your critical appraisal,’ said David, feeling the full confidence of what he knew to be a superior education, not least two years studying ‘PPE’ – the badge of many front rank Labour politicians of recent years, including Tony.

‘No,’ replied Jonathan, feeling inadequate due to both David’s tone and his implication that his insights were weak. ‘I just doubt the economic or political plausibility of workers’ control of production when, to be re-elected and, for once, to hold office for a substantial period, we need to prioritise, not shove down the throats of unsuspecting proles their desperate need to be liberated from the shackles of late capitalism.’ Momentarily the anger of Jonathan’s tirade threw David out of what would normally be his comfort zone: dialectical intercourse with a fellow, but inferior, undergrad.

Jonathan was red-faced now, but pleased with his prejudiced if not insulting assertion, despite it lacking what David would consider intellectual rigour and being steeped in moderate, backsliding, Labourite tradition. Yet somehow David couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm to joust with this irritant any longer. ‘Perhaps you’re in the wrong place,’ was all he could offer. This though was enough for Jonathan. He was in so many words being told, once again, he didn’t belong. Rejection seemed to follow him wherever he went. First his own dad; rejecting loving fatherhood in favour of … well, rejecting; then everybody else had let him down. Now Mr Benn, via his latest acolyte, was giving him the heave-ho.

Jonathan wasn’t going to give David the satisfaction of storming out. He sat it out, ploughing through the tapes until he’d completed the transcription, although unilaterally deciding that the verbiage of the useful idiots who always spoke up after Benn’s speeches didn’t need to be transcribed too. He felt sure that David could fill in those blanks. What the grassroots fodder actually thought didn’t matter a tom tit, mused Jonathan.

At around 5pm, knowing that Mr B wouldn’t be back from the Commons at such a time, he exited, mumbling a socially-obligatory ‘See you’ to David. ‘Sure,’ David coldly replied. Arrogant prick, thought Jonathan.

After Jonathan had left Mr Benn’s subterranean office, David felt pleased with himself. Jonathan wouldn’t be coming back in a hurry, and of course David could relay to Tony the full extent of Jonathan’s hostility and, perhaps more importantly, his obvious political disloyalty. Such a person surely couldn’t be trusted by Tony to work in his office?

David felt awkward though. Some of what Jonathan had said had pierced a little of David’s amour-propre. At heart though David knew that he, and Tony, were right. If politics is just the pursuit of power without purpose then it will always end in disappointment, thought David. In any case, Jonathan had seemed a bit unhinged, and probably had more than differences over Labour ideology to get off his chest. David reached over to Jonathan’s pile of cassettes, the tape recorder he’d been using, and his typed-up transcription and decided to examine exactly what he’d been up to. David quickly noticed that Jonathan had been doctoring Tony’s latest speech with what were obviously his own inventions. In one passage where Mr Benn has been explaining the virtue of transferring power from ‘organised capital’ to ‘organised labour’, Jonathan had inserted ‘disorganised’ before the word ‘labour’. Leafing through further passages, David saw that the sabotage continued, and was sometimes even less subtle. Where Tony had actually talked of ‘democratising the means of production’ in order to ‘deliver socialism in our lifetime,’ Jonathan had subverted these lines to read ‘devastating the means of production’ in order to ‘deliver immiseration in our lifetime.’

David wasn’t a complicated young man. He knew he had all the evidence he needed to make absolutely sure that Jonathan’s contribution to the cause would be totally and completely terminated. The mental complexities of a hostile guy whom he had absolutely no obligation to – moral or otherwise – didn’t trouble David. He had been raised by his father, a successful barrister, to believe in the absolute logic and certainty of rational analysis. The probable psychological problems of this veritable enemy within didn’t fit with the cold empiricism of intellectual discourse, at least as David understood it. David had been bred to succeed, not to fear, and succeed he surely would, by any means necessary. 

A day in the country

The next morning Jonathan agonised on whether to go back to Mr Benn’s house in an attempt at asserting himself further with the interloper. The various considerations that such a move entailed, the differing scenarios and relative risks involved, and of course the consequences for his mental stability of not going there, totally immobilised him. He was left completely confused and utterly exhausted. This familiar condition was only partially relived by another angry jog around Finsbury Park.

Barely having had time to recover from his exertions, and for reasons that he didn’t entirely understand, Jonathan decided to use an otherwise dead Wednesday (no lectures) to visit his retired parents in East Sussex. It had been a while since he had set foot in the semi in which he had spent his teens. Not that he never saw his parents of course, but ever since he had first moved to London five years earlier Jonathan had managed to limit such meetings, preferring to engage with his parents on relatively neutral territory; a proximate seaside town like Eastbourne for example, or, on the very rare occasion of a family get-together for a meal, by going to a nearby pub.

Jonathan had of course packed a couple of books that he’d borrowed from the polytechnic library so that he could feel that his trip wouldn’t be entirely wasted. Having not telephoned in advance, he couldn’t be absolutely certain that his parents would be in. He got off the bus and walked the familiar path to the family home, feeling apprehensive and expecting the usual complaints from his father. As he approached the semi deeply ensconced in the modern private housing estate – ‘Holly’ this and ‘Meadow’ that – he remembered that, it being a Wednesday, they’d therefore be out shopping in Eastbourne. Utilising an old house key that he recalled they had always stashed amongst the rotting, rusting, tools and bent deck chairs that mouldered in the damp darkness at the back of his father’s garage, Jonathan let himself in.

The house hadn’t changed a bit since the year or more since he’d last visited. The light was always obscured. The pictures were few and neutral. The furnishings essential and inoffensive. After the last visit Jonathan had vowed that he wouldn’t return ever again, but here he was. He couldn’t entirely explain it, even to himself. It may have essentially boiled down to the residual loyalty he felt to his mother who’d suffered as much humiliation and torment over the years as him. Jonathan felt no obligation to ever see his father again. They only argued anyway, now that the tables had partially turned and Jonathan was no longer the child whose concerns could be entirely disregarded. Now at least Jonathan could assert his views, whether this served any purpose other than making him feel less irrelevant. He felt that his mother appreciated his occasional visits, some respite from the inescapable duty. But they never really talked. How could they? When Jonathan had been a child his father had ignored the literal cries for help and destroyed his self-confidence and self-esteem. His mother hadn’t been there for him. Whether she really understood that, wasn’t clear. For her it had been thirty years of suffering quietly. It was so routinised as to be beyond discussion. There was no negotiation. Their absence today merely gave Jonathan time to reflect on the absurdity of the whole situation. Angry and resentful ever since boyhood, Jonathan somehow nurtured the desire for a way out, whether through an act of revenge on his father or against those who undermined him now. He wondered about what there might be in the house that could serve his ill-formed purpose.

Jonathan decided to have a poke about. Opening his parents’ bedroom door, he remembered that there had long been some old items stashed under the bed. He looked at the ivory-handled revolver at the bottom of the box. It was World War 1 vintage and, somehow, his Dad’s dad had acquired it soon after the end of the ‘war to end all wars’. How an officer’s pistol had come into his grandfather’s possession was shrouded in secrecy, just like much of Jonathan’s family history. Knowing that his own father never looked under the parental bed, Jonathan felt quite okay about placing the gun down his trousers, having of course checked the barrel to ensure that the pistol wasn’t loaded. It wasn’t. And, unfortunately, there weren’t any bullets lying around inside the box either. Oh well, I could still do some harm with this, he thought.

Jonathan carefully replaced the other items in the box and pushed it and the adjoining ones back into the spot where he had, more or less, found them. He noted that even his mother’s zealous attention to housework details hadn’t prevented spiders and woodlouse from finding this section of the off-beige carpeting an appropriate place to die. As his parents were out, Jonathan had no qualms about removing the pistol from his underpants, standing in front of his mother’s full-length mirror, and posing with the gun in an almost camp imitation of a sharp shooter taking aim at his own reflection.
Before long though, his latest retreat into fantasy was disturbed by the familiar sound of his father’s moderate-sized family saloon car coming up the drive of the semi-detached house. Jonathan quickly buried the pistol in his ruck-sack, beneath the worn clothing that his mother normally liked to liberate from his possession, and the books with which he had intended to acquire full familiarity with the strategic and historical importance of the Chinese Communist Party’s fabled Long March. 

Acting his way as usual through ritualised pleasantries with his parents, he continued to think about the pistol, especially when his father addressed him on the need to maintain full attention to his studies as he couldn’t afford to ‘fuck it up again’ (or some lower middle class code for much the same thing). ‘When I was a boy,’ said Mr Stephens, ‘My father would give me the belt if I didn’t come up to the mark,’ he informed Jonathan. Well, lucky me then, thought Jonathan. His mother, Linda Stephens, looked awkward and focused on preparing cups of tea for the assembled three.

Later that day, not as stimulated by the Long March’s impact on the Chinese peasantry as he’d envisaged, Jonathan rummaged through his rucksack just to make sure that Mrs Stephens’ exacting attention to a housewife’s duties hadn’t crossed the line into his smalls and the other essentials of a young man’s world.

No, the pistol was safely buried deep amongst his underwear and course books. This was an appropriate temporary home, he thought, for an object whose purpose was, as yet, undefined. Jonathan sensed though that, somehow, the gun would eventually find its place in a journey he had begun to undertake in order to find meaning in his life – whether for good or bad.

Back in the cellar

The dampness of the cellar hadn’t particularly bothered Jonathan before. Somehow though on this occasion, the merging of it with the residual smell of Mr Benn’s pipe smoke was having an especially nauseating effect. When he’d first started working for the renowned politician, Jonathan hadn’t been bothered by the atmosphere in Mr B’s bunker. But some six months on, and after many visits, the few hours he would spend in his cellar would increasingly stir up a cloying, almost suffocating feeling, in Jonathan. So much so that he wasn’t sure if it actually was simply the logical combination of the damp, Mr B’s musty books and papers, the odour of a relatively old man and, as mentioned, the signature mini cauldron that Mr B usually had appended to his bottom lip. The atmosphere had started to seem very claustrophobic, and it increasingly seemed that this was about far more than how a damp, windowless basement would make anybody feel.

At the same time, the contradictoriness of Jonathan, what he was self-aware enough to understand as his multiple personalities, or at least what he thought of as his psycho-double-think, meant that he still felt enormously impressed by Mr Benn. This veteran leader of the British left - and a (still) possible prime minister – had once told him, a mere polytechnic undergraduate, what it had been like to work elbow to elbow with Harold Wilson, what he, Mr Benn, had said to President Nixon at a UK-US bilateral, what he had encouraged James Callaghan to say to Menachem Begin when the Israeli leader condescended to meet the UK PM at Heathrow en route to negotiating a peace deal with Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and how Mr Benn had convinced the Upper Clyde shipbuilders that the state really did want to help their workers’ co-operative. Heady stuff for a boy like me, thought Jonathan, who still struggled to think of himself as a man. His mind went back to an attractive married woman had remarked only a few months back that she thought Jonathan was a man until he told her that he was at college. That still rankled.

Jonathan was once again alone in the cellar and he busied himself with the backlog of mail. Ordinarily he would just rip open the envelopes with his bare hands, like anyone else, but he happened to spy a rather impressive looking object in Mr B’s huge container of pens, pencils, and rulers etc. Its ivory handle was especially striking as such a sight was increasingly rare outside of an antique shop. Off-white, even yellowing with age, it struck Jonathan as simultaneously impressive and offensive. The letter-opener evoked the colonial era, and indeed was, thought Jonathan, no doubt a direct result of British territorial possessions in Africa or south Asia.

A curious object perhaps for Mr Benn to have casually occupying a space among his ‘office’ ephemera. Better perhaps than being in a museum, thought Jonathan, although that was somehow where it belonged: a colonial exhibit symbolising cruelty to man and beast. Ironically perhaps, Jonathan’s eye was then caught by the unanswered personal letter sent some while back by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The head of Britain’s state church, still not disestablished, had asked Mr Benn to give his public endorsement to the 'Christian Aid' annual Christmas appeal, and to back his call for young people in Britain to volunteer for the Church-backed ‘Tear Fund’ and its work in the Third World. It struck Jonathan that the plain humanity of the Christian Aid slogan ‘We believe in life before death,’ and the perhaps slightly more awkward Tear Fund message of ‘Following Jesus where the need is greatest’ were probably not going to be that high on Mr B’s political priority list.

After all Mr Benn’s earthly Gospel focused on mobilising young and old behind a generous state, one under his command of course, not on transforming both the inner and the outer world. Jonathan flicked over the enclosed Tear Fund literature with its pictures of impossibly happy Africans grateful that anyone, whether old colonials, or those, young or old, who despised the very notion of Empire, might contribute something, their money or, better still, their time and effort, to help relieve poverty and under-development. Jonathan, still as prone to the pull of this message as when, as a schoolboy, he had collected money for the Church’s Africa appeal, lingered for a while over the letter and its content before returning them to the increasing pile of unanswered correspondence from ‘non-political’ sources.

Returning his focus to the ivory letter opener, it crossed Jonathan’s mind that its incongruous presence down here may be partly due to it originally belonging to Mr Benn’s ennobled father, William Wedgewood Benn. He certainly did know Lloyd George but had got his particular Liberal Party preferment for public service as a minister and, like his two sons, for having fought in the RAF.

Jonathan’s mind turned darker as he dwelt on these contradictions. A political admiration for Mr Benn had never reconciled Jonathan to the discomfort he felt at the politician’s obvious privileges, in the present as well as in his semi-disowned past. None of these were mitigated by the fact that one of Mr Benn’s sons, he with the almost absurdly bourgeois, female name, could sometimes be glimpsed arriving at the family house, taking time out from his Russian and Eastern European studies at Sussex University, having previously been an attendee at probably the most privileged comprehensive school in the UK: Holland Park.

For some reason Jonathan’s progress through the manila and ivory-coloured envelopes had come to an abrupt halt as he dwelt on his own situation. In a damp pit, working for nothing for a man who espoused ‘true socialism’. His mind returned to the antique pistol he had pocketed last week from under his parents’ bed, while he continued to stare at the surprisingly sharp vintage letter-opener in his hands. Perhaps this could be a subtler weapon, he mused to himself.     

Later that night Jonathan reheated the mature vegetables, having lightly sprinkled them with an instant curry mix, and served them to himself on a bed of decidedly plain rice. His mind went back to its default setting of anxiety about his outer world and in particular his work for Mr Benn. He realised that it was Mr Benn, for all his rhetorical and ideological virtues, who was the real problem. But behind Mr Benn in Jonathan’s rogues gallery was of course Jonathan’s father. Old men; authority figures who simultaneously he deferred to, admired, and totally hated. The pain of his childhood and his abusive Dad would come out in attempts to find the good father and, when this failed, it was vented through the anger he felt that they hadn’t come up to Jonathan’s expectations. So much of his daily life consisted of the endless repetition of replayed threats, counter-threats and halfway assertions of himself. He was simply rerunning the original buried sin that had bred in him shame, self-loathing and a deep sense that he had let himself down by not forcing his knee into the tenderest, most vulnerable, places from which evil dwelleth, an evil often visited upon the innocent. That event had caused so much misplaced, misjudged, misanthropic anger. Jonathan carefully re-examined the ivory-handled letter opener that had somehow fallen into his bag a few nights before.  

The next day Jonathan packed his ruck-sack carefully. Nestling at the very bottom was a tightly wrapped bundle of bubble wrap. At the last minute Jonathan had decided to discard the letter opener, dumping it into the hands of an unsuspecting beggar squatting on the pavement outside the student hall of residence. He can flog it or use it to open his mail, Jonathan thought.

Jonathan didn’t give a shit; he was on a mission and today was the day that he’d finally lay his demons to rest. Enough of the assumed ‘positive face for the world’, the fixed smile to mask the fear. Today Jonathan would liberate himself with a singular act of revenge. His own father was dead but Mr Benn would provide a suitable foil for Jonathan’s revenge. All the hurt, all the disregard, all the blatant hypocrisy would be rent asunder in one powerful blow for all the serially pissed upon, for whom Jonathan would, for one brief moment at least, be a representative, a tribune of integrity, of honour, in a sad and lonely world.

Jonathan sat in Mr Benn’s cellar for what would definitely be the last time. He’d timed his arrival precisely to ensure that, on this occasion at least, he would be sure of running into the senior politician. Sure enough, by the time that Jonathan had wolfed down the last of the homemade sandwiches that had sat on top of the bubble-wrapped parcel in his rucksack, Mr Benn descended the windy wooden stairs into the damp world where, for Jonathan, fear reigned, but where, for the veteran socialist, there was only the reassuring comfort of file upon file of typed-up chronicles of his contribution to post-war British history. The familiar throat clearing of an inveterate pipe smoker preceded his appearance in person. On seeing Jonathan, Mr Benn held out a warm hand, as he was always want to do. He accompanied the firm grip with an equally firm, and genuine, smile. For all the uncomfortable words that has passed between them the other night, Mr Benn reserved vindictiveness for party traitors and, on occasion, for Conservative MPs; for his equals, never for those who served under him. This has been the approach of his father and grandfather to public service, and it had guided Anthony Wedgewood-Benn though wartime military service and through his three decades at the Palace of Westminster.

Jonathan resented Mr Benn’s friendliness, knowing that what he had planned would be easier if his nemesis was as unpleasant as possible, conforming to the caricature enemies he had steadily been amassing in his life.

‘Jonathan, please understand that the work that you have done is greatly appreciated by all of us,’ said Mr Benn with that familiar patrician air. The ‘all’ providing a deflection from the base reality of Jonathan having slaved away as a kind of secretarial skivvy for Mr Benn’s personal crusade to lead the nation toward a socialist Valhalla. Of course Jonathan retained the ability to be emotionally manipulated by the catch in Mr Benn’s speaking voice, the mesmerising platform addresses, the brilliant interventions in conference debates that somehow spoke for truth even if they didn’t win a majority of the millions of trade union members’ votes wielded by a handful of fat, uncouth men. ‘It is also a matter of some personal sadness to Caroline and I,’ he added, bizarrely bringing his wife into proceedings when Jonathan had barely exchanged a word with the wealthy American lady.

‘Mr Benn,’ Jonathan stiffly interjected, in an instant prompting Tony to flash that infamous stare upon him, all hyper-intelligence and calculation. ‘I want you to know that for all my frustration over the last few months, I continue to respect the ideas that you stand for.’ Mr Benn’s stare softened, as the politician anticipated some familiar words of admiration. ‘However I have come to the conclusion that the best way for me to reconcile the anger I feel at injustice – the injustice of this monstrously huge house and the injustice of the apparent need for the unfortunate to be guided into the light by those, like you, possessed of sufficient education and insight – is for me to cut out the cant and hypocrisy for good. I have decided,’ Jonathan went on, unaware and even less concerned at the effect his words were having on a man nearly 40 years older and who’d rarely been so personally upbraided by anyone, let alone one so young and so junior. ‘I have decided,’ he persevered, ‘that you need to have the absurd contradiction between what you publicly profess and what you privately enjoy brought home to you as decisively as possible.’

Mr Benn could only wait on Jonathan’s next move. Jonathan had lent down into the open rucksack, calmly removing the aluminium foil that had housed his sandwiches, and grabbed the bubble-wrapped parcel underneath. ‘What is this, Jonathan,’ Mr Benn finally managed to utter, assuming that this was going to be something rather more sinister than a goodbye present. Jonathan was now moving at a quicker and more disconcerting pace. He ripped apart the tightly-bound bubble wrap and pulled from inside the package the ivory-handled pistol that he’d stolen from under his parents’ bed a week earlier.

At the sight of this Mr Benn was obviously alarmed. His instincts - and some of his military training - kicked in as Jonathan pointed the pistol directly at him. Tony noted that the gun was cocked and, he assumed, loaded. While it looked antique there was no reason to assume that it wouldn’t go off. Mr Benn prepared to take evasive action when Jonathan then proceeded to point the pistol away from him and toward his own head, before coolly releasing the trigger. Benn felt feint, momentarily drooping until a muted click brought matters to a kind of close.

‘That,’ said Jonathan, ‘was my way of saying what I have for some time felt like doing, but ultimately I have decided that it would do nobody any good.…

‘Here, have it,’ said Jonathan, tossing the vintage gun in Mr Benn’s direction. ‘You can sell it as a contribution to campaign funds. I have decided to leave this country. I do need to fight my way among the serried ranks of polytechnocrats in the service of the state, or whoever wields its power to their advantage. I am going to experience manual labour, but far away from here where it counts as merely an imagined statement about class, to somewhere where it’s about survival, to do voluntary work for ‘Christian Aid’ at a Kenyan coffee plantation where they probably still use the techniques introduced by the British colonial authorities a century ago,’ said Jonathan primly.

Mr Benn, for once, had absolutely nothing to say. 

(Author's note: Any resemblance to people alive or dead is fully intended)