Tag Archives: recession

On hearing Lord Dyson’s ruling that appeals against the Bedroom Tax were “manifestly without reasonable foundation.”

When is a society, a Civil Society?

When rulers don’t wage war on the people they are supposed to be ruling?
When the needs of those deemed most venerable, are considered?
When efforts are made to establish peaceful coexistence, are not overturned?
When reality rather than ideology is used to determine policy?
When the Courts of Appeal uphold the law not bad government?
When despair does not colour every day?


Whose Side Are You On?

Last Friday I celebrated the feast day of a third century Roman saint. I didn’t go to church, burn a candle, say a prayer, or take communion. But nor did most of this countries husbands and wives and lovers. They bought flowers, and cards, and broke bread together. And it’s easy to mock those who fall for the commercial sting that is St Valentine’s Day. Easy to dismiss an ancient festival, that may have it’s origins in pagan worship. Easy to say it was invented by card manufactures; when it wasn’t.

St Valentine or Valentinus as he was known in the third century, is lost to us. On the 14th February he was martyred on Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. And that’s about all we know about him. He’s on the Catholic Churches list of officially recognized saints for local veneration; the Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox Churches all recognise him. So he’s the real deal; not some capitalists dream.

Valentinus died for his beliefs. He died because the persecution of Christians  was an empire wide sport before Constantine adopted Christianity. The early Christians perplexed the pagan world. They happily embraced death; no matter how horrific. Sometimes they sought out martyrdom because it venerated Jesus Christ. Because they were certain of meeting God.

People like Valentinus were executed because they were considered a threat. Because they believed in things like: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Two millennia have passed. His persecutors empire has crumbled into dust. Christianity is a global religion. In Western Europe, people are no longer put to death. Yet in Britain a million children go to school hungry. Families who rely on food banks are called lazy. People born into privilege and wealth, accumulate more wealth.

I don’t know what Valentinus would make of a bunch of millionaires persecuting the sick, poor and disabled. But I do know whose side he’d be on.


Ugly

Camden Town is often sold to outsiders as young, hip and enlightened. But the days are long gone when bands rehearsed in Rehearsals, Rehearsals; and Compendium was the only bookstore in London stocking Charles Bukowski. The great mindless sprawl of cheap consumerism has swept-away the Greek bakeries and hardware stores of Camden High Street. Its obliterated a watch repair shop on Parkway; and the Plaza Cinema.

The Plaza became a covered market and now it’s an American chain fashion store; that trades on being edgy and an alternative to Preppy – but its just a sad coals to Newcastle situation. The fashion store is selling an expensive and poorly conceived take on what Camden was like in the 80s.

Except Camden in the 80s consisted of individuals, selling fashion and art, they’d constructed in back-rooms, in squats and small Kentish Town factories. Of course the overheads are too large now; and the appetite for cheap imported tat, too great.

But before you accuse me of being some ageing hipster; morphing into a modern-day version of his parents: I’m not actually complaining about the new; I’m complaining that there is nothing new and exciting. Its boring, its become an Estate Agents Dream – a playground for the type of people who destroyed the artistic communities of Shoreditch and East London.

I was sitting in a coffee/tea shop, that used to be Palmers Pet Store. Its still a nice old shop, but its been hollowed out. And instead of Parakeets and snakes, tortoises and cats; you have rustic tables and comfy sofas. Fake boho , with free wifi and  achingly self conscious types scrawling, typing, jabbering away.

But they do make a mean cup of coffee, so I forgive them for inhabiting my place of memories. Because of course, memories are not tangible, but good coffee is. And memories may be nice and cosy, but they are not real life. Living in the past, is rather like taking antidepressants or painkillers, or what are termed street drugs: reality is masked for the duration of the hit.

Anyway I’m sitting Palmers Pet Store, that is now a coffee shop. There was an antique/jewellery/lace/card shop, I can’t recall if it was next door or a few doors down. Its one of those disappeared places, run by an independent hippyish lady . I bought those small soft leather children’s shoes, greetings cards and bracelets for my girlfriend there.

A few years into the millennium the antique lace lady told me she was closing down; rents were getting too high, and I suppose business wasn’t great. She told me Palmers  were going too. Camden was full of shoe stores by then; some of them had erected huge boots where awnings once hung. Quite a few of the boot stores are gone too; time marches on.

While waiting for my friend to order his tea, I look about. There’s a man with a laptop open; I can see his e-mail client and the mails arranged in neat rows. He’s not really doing anything, just looking at the screen – which is doing nothing. The  wide expanse of glass at the front of the store brings in a lot of light. There’s a couple of sofas and coffee tables, arranged like a suburban front room. A blond haired girl, makes notes; she has a pink cycling helmet and green harem pants. She looks like a gap-year traveller, who somehow got stranded in Camden Town.

An middle aged lady, dressed in a cream camel coat and carrying a hideously bright orange bag (a day for clashes of colour methinks) sits at an adjacent seat. She opens her de facto laptop. Fast forward ten minutes, and my friend and I are deep in conversation. Where’re talking about serious stuff, not loudly, but I suppose in earshot of her.

I guess we are in earshot because when she starts braying into a mobile phone, I can see my friends lips moving – but out of them is coming her voice, suffused with  vitriol.

She’s been observing people across the road from her. I don’t know if this is a home, or office. But they have annoyed her so much, she wants to tell the world about their crimes and misdemeanours. The people across the road are squatters, isn’t that illegal I hear her say, and she bandies about a figure of five thousand pounds.

She can see everything they are up to, apparently. They’ve erected a tent in the back, and are smoking crack. Her expert knowledge of drug taking has been gleaned from the TV series Breaking Bad, which was about the manufacturing of crystal meth by a chemistry teacher. Not crack smoking.

I would hazard a guess that those poor unfortunates, who have been forced to occupy an abandoned building are simply smoking. They may have been smoking spliff, but that is conjecture. The reality is you cannot use a TV drama, based in New Mexico or wherever its supposed to be; and apply it to homeless people in London.

The fact is that Britain, and most extremely London, is experiencing a housing crisis of monumental proportions. The UN has submitted a report about the abuses the current government are responsible for; and terminal lack of affordable housing available in the UK. This report has been dismissed by the government as Marxist; well if to care about humanity is Marxist then myself, Jesus Christ and the late Harold Macmillan are Marxist.

My mood was tempered by that fact that I’d interviewed three people for the Housing CoOp where I live. I also interviewed three people before Christmas. All of these people were effectively homeless:

A woman who had been made redundant from a managerial job, was scraping a living with freelance work. She had reinvented herself, but her income was not enough to get her a flat. A man who was working twelve hour shifts for a minimum wage, needed affordable housing so he could support his ill parents with the remainder of his income.

A third man had been forced to live in bed and breakfast, far away from his job; because there was no affordable housing available for him locally. He was skilled and middle aged. The type of man who in many parts of the country would be able to own his own home.

I wanted to pull the mobile phone out of the camel coated lady’s hand, and tell her how she disgusted me. But her rant against poor people came to an end, and she left.

The problem with Camden  Town is not that it’s changed. The problem is the people who have moved in. I can live with change, but I can’t abide the offensive and abusive tone people adopt when talking about the poor.

There is a mood that’s abroad in most of the UK and it can be described by one word, UGLY.


September Song.

I recall the summer of 2003 as being exceptionally hot. I moved houses on one of those hot days, when removal men sweated buckets. As the day progressed their t-shirts began to sag with moisture, and one man looked like he would explode.

During August there was a week long course at an IT company close to Bank station: it was an easy week, and I even managed to slip in a party at London Zoo on Thursday night. Back in the days of prosperity, my employer had an annual summer party; it was a thank you to the workers, and it actually did make a difference.

On Friday people needed to get to other parts of the country, so we packed-up early. I was able to pick-up my daughter from school that day; she stayed weekends with me, and weekdays with her mother. She has just turned four, a wonderful age.

There were dates with women, work, and occasional carousing.  My life was a mixture of light and shade; with no extremes of happiness or sadness. It rolled on, unexceptionally. After a ten year hiatus, I began writing again.

Right back there.                                  September, 2003

There’s no future here; nuthin left to farm. All my kids have rickets and Ma ain’t got no milk. Jimmy’s  drinkin   powder  from  the  government; the rest just go without.
Out there in California, I hear they have jobs. Food for my kids and decent places to live.  They can sell us a lie, but not the same lie twice.  For all our sakes I hope this new one is true.
When the well ran dry last week; I took down the crucifix above our bed. I said to Ma:
“If he’s done with us, then he might as well make us some firewood.”
I burnt the blessing from the bishop too.
“The warmest the old bastards been all his life,” said Ma.
She covered her mouth and gave heaven a glance. But I’ve heard her say worse.
The night Jimmy was born, she swore and she screamed:
 “Whore, child of Satan,” at Mrs Weir.
The baby’s head was stuck and she needed to cut, to save both their lives.
Mrs Weir, the pharmacist’s wife, shouted:
“Make yourself useful man and hold your wife down.”
So I did.
She spat in my face, when the blade cut her flesh. Called me a pig and things I’d like to forget. All those words made me angry, but I held on to her just the same. I could feel her life force ebbing away.  Like all those animals that have died at my hands: I waited for the final spasm, when her soul would jump away.
Then a miracle happened.  Mrs Weir handed me Jimmy, covered in blood.
“Now make yourself useful and clean up your son, while I deal with your wife.”
I whispered:
 “I love you Ma”, but her eyes were closed, so I suppose she didn’t hear.
A push from Mrs Weir got me out of the room. I don’t know what she did, but she saved my wife’s life.
A year ago, I was sayin:
“Thank you lord,” for sparing Ma and Jimmy.
And now I’m beggin; that he doesn’t take them both away.


The Great Recession

I’m going to be posting extracts from my forthcoming book: The Great Recession.

It’s a loose collection of writing spanning ten years and a couple of months (2003 to 2014). Fiction, poetry, photographs and some autobiography. Its out on Kindle in the Spring.

I can hear it coming.                  January 2014

At night, as I lie awake in bed, I listen to the sound of the railway.
Rolling thunder and screeching metal wheels.
It reminds me of a time before the Great Recession;
When I had to imagine how poverty and pain felt.


I See

I see a homeless person

Dressed in rags.

I see everyone walking by

And looking the other way.

I see people spending money

On things they don’t need.

I see the   filthy looks

and  the muttering.

They say:

Dirty Beggar

Alcoholic

They say:

You don’t matter

Because you’re not like me.

I see someone who once lived in a house

And was proud of that house.

I see them travelling to work

Each day

On a packed commuter train.

I see their hopes and dreams,

Their fanciful schemes.

I see them holding a child

Minutes after it was born.

I see a great mass of people

In motion.

And that person standing still

Frozen like a statue,

Hand outstretched.

I see green fields and the sea-side

Children building sandcastles

And others splashing in the waves.

I see

A handshake

A smile

And a pat on the back

I see a hospital bed,

And tubes going into an arm

There’s a beep every second or so

That says , this person is alive.

I see skin as thin as parchment

And a choir singing Christmas carols

To a hospital ward full of people.

I see someone who is too sick to work

Who can’t pay the bills.

I see a family argument and

Brimming suitcases.

I see the hostel

Where people shout at night.

The small room

With a wardrobe and sink.

I see sadness and tears

And hope slipping away.

I see me,

Who do you see ?


When Dad Lost His Job

whendad crop - Dan McGill

Available to buy on kindle : click here for amazon.