"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Are we returning to the world of 'A Christmas Carol'?

  • Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights, and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.       A Christmas Carol

Many of you know that I am a bit of a geek when it comes to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I have taught/lectured on it from both the English Literature and the Popular Culture 'angles'. I collect different editions of the book  and interesting ornaments/memorabilia. I have blogged on it and written political parodies on it. So when my latest acquisition - Marley's Ghost - arrived today, I was pretty excited.

As always, when reading/teaching 19thC literature, it is frightening how close we are to returning to the mores of Victorian society under this present government. The notion of the 'deserving and undeserving poor' [which had actually been around since Tudor times] played a big part in the distribution of charity in Victorian patriarchal hierarchy.

When Scrooge in A Christmas Carol early in Chapter One asks the two gentleman who are seeking charitable donations to help the poor: 

'Are there no prisons?' asked Scrooge.'Plenty of prisons,' said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.'And the Union workhouses?' demanded Scrooge. 'Are they still in operation?''They are. Still,' returned the gentleman,  'I wish I could say they were not.''The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?' said Scrooge.'Both very busy, sir.''Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,' said Scrooge. 'I'm very glad to hear it.'
it is somewhat similar to Iain Duncan-Smith's shameful comment this week: 
'I am happy for people to visit food banks. I don't have a problem with them'. 
The story of Marley's Ghost is that he, the late partner of Scrooge, visits the latter on Christmas Eve to warn him that unless Scrooge changes his ways he is doomed to become a restless spirit like Marley:

'I wear the chain I forged in life,' replied the Ghost. 'I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?'Scrooge trembled more and more.'Or would you know,' pursued the Ghost, 'the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!'

Scrooge tries to argue that he is only doing what a good Victorian should be doing, making and reinvesting his profits - see the Protestant Work Ethic :

'But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,' faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.'Business!'' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'
This is to me one of the most important statements in the book. It resembles the biblical quote, parallels of which can be found in all the great religions: 
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?      Mark 8:36

Another important statement occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the figures under his robe. This ornament of mine shows a sanitised pair, illustrations from the book show a more frightening pair:

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.'Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!'exclaimed the Ghost.They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.'Spirit! are they yours?'Scrooge could say no more.'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!' cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!''Have they no refuge or resource?' cried Scrooge.'Are there no prisons?' said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. 'Are there no workhouses?'
 The John Leech original illustration

The last 'comparison' with the present day/Victorian times I will make is using the 'metaphor' of Tiny Tim. He is presented in the book as a fragile, sickly child who, although his father is in regular employment, it is not possible for the family to afford the good food and medical treatment that he needs for what is a curable condition without which he will die.

We have seen under this present government an erosion in both confidence and financial support for the NHS, despite David Cameron's electioneering promise that the Conservative Party was 'the Party of the NHS' [January 2010] We have learnt how many working people, including parents of course, cannot exist solely on their wages but have to rely on welfare benefits and/or food banks to feed themselves/ their families. When the cry goes up that we are in a period of austerity and cuts have to be made one remembers the quote of the late Tony Benn: 
If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.

In other words, no military campaign has ever been put aside because we are in a period of austerity......

Are we getting close to returning to the sort of society and times that Dickens wrote about in 1843? Please think about this and when listening to the pleas and excuses of the government in the forthcoming election campaign perhaps it will help to decide where we go next.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

New Tory Party Anthem

We'll never live like common people
We'll never do what common people do
We'll never fail like common people
We'll never watch our life slide out of view, because we are the favoured few
Because we have plenty to do. 
We despise the common people, sing along and this might just all come true.
We’ll sneer at the common people
Patronise them even when they're trying hard, we think the things they do 
Are stupid. We think that poor is poo. 
We don’t want to live with common people, we dislike the common people. 

with apologies to Pulp: Common People

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself. Robert Frost

Its been a funny few days. Good: we had a few days recuperation 'at home' in the South West after my bout of bronchitis and the weather was really kind to us. Not so good: the residue of the weather not having been so kind this winter was evident everywhere. Driving across the Somerset Levels and seeing how Muchelney is still cut off by the floods, huge 'lakes' of standing water, sodden fields etc. Talking to a friend from Burrowbridge who had been flooded and comparing our experiences of the floods in Chertsey. Our cliff top dwelling campsite is now smaller than it was as a large area has fallen into the sea. Most unexpected, but then so were the wild waves which reached the height of the cliff top.

It was good as always to catch up with friends and family, but not so good to receive an email from a friend of nearly 40 years standing to say that she couldn't put up with my inane ramblings [ramblings I admit to, inane seemed a little harsh] any longer and our friendship is over. I suspect that my political opinions which differ to hers, never discussed face to face but which I air [ you may have noticed dear reader] on the world wide web annoy her. Since I have friends from all sides of the political spectrum, different faiths and ethnicity and - you may have noticed - enjoy a good discussion on all sorts of issues, I find this rather sad but am not about to change my ways.

And then, for holiday reading, I have been re-reading the late Tony Benn's Dare to Be A Daniel which kind of says the same thing as the Robert Frost quote of the blog title. Except I somehow feel Tony Benn was better at putting it across than I.

The Robert Frost quote was sent by a cousin this morning and is quite humbling really. It reminds one of just why and how people like Tony Benn stood up for their principles and could do it for a lifetime. I hope I can do the same, and remember why I am a political activist.

P.S.   Talking about principles, I am so disgusted and offended by the Grant Schapps post budget 'Bingo & Booze' 'infographic' I can't reproduce it on my blog, but it can be seen here. However I will show the satire of it tweeted by David Schneider this morning: 

For Duncan xx

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Tony & Bob

Due to a combination of the floods and  unwellness [is that even a word?] February and early March has been a wash out in the Elizannie/Other Half household and we are actually off on a bit of a recuperation for a few days later today. But how could I leave without paying a tribute to two of our political heroes, one whom I knew and one I would have liked to have known.

The announcement of the death of Bob Crow on Tuesday this week came as a complete shock. A man of very strong principles - and I may not have agreed with all of them! - but someone who looked after his union members, stood up for justice for so many other causes such as Football against Racism. I remember listening to Boris Johnson blustering and puffing on a radio station before the last scheduled train strike when Bob Crow 'phoned in because that was the only way that he could get Boris to talk to him. Pure Genius. He will be sadly missed and the photograph below of the tribute to him by his members at Convent Garden Tube station says it all:

Tony Benn's death was not so unexpected but still very sad for those who had loved and maybe also known him for so many years. I was furious when I found out some years ago that he used to visit my father's house when I was a child tucked up in bed! - but made up for it by meeting him later in life. There are many wonderful obits out there so I will just say that when I awoke to the very sad news of the passing of Tony yesterday I realised that we had all lost a true Socialist, a Gentleman in all senses of the word.

The last time we saw him was at Kings Place theatre in March 2013 where he was due to appear in his 'Writing on the Wall' show which he shared with Roy Bailey. Unfortunately at the last minute Tony had to cancel due to his poor health and Roy carried on on his own. Just toward the end of the evening, Roy was called off stage and returned with a very frail Tony who had not wanted to let his audience down. Roy was crying and Tony got a standing ovation. He looked so frail but when he spoke his voice and words had all his usual strength and conviction. So many of us had tears streaming down our faces that night. 

Thank you Tony for so many things - you will be sadly missed but you have left us all with great memories and many good quotes.

Tony & I at a peace rally in Trafalgar Square.
I had just given him a great smacking kiss 
and he laughed and said 'That was very nice'!