Malcolm Ball – Celebrating his life

Back in the middle of July, I was ready to attend an event in Lewisham celebrating my dear friend and comrade Malcolm Ball’s life. Flights and hotel were booked. However, the happening was thwarted by a supposedly unprecedented heatwave or by the ruling class’s desire to impose upon us an eternal state of anxiety, come what may. Whatever, the reconvened date was yesterday and sadly I couldn’t make it.

Thanks to Tania for the photo of the occasion

The celebration staged in the Council rooms was streamed live and included moving testaments to Malcolm’s remarkable impact upon life in what he always called ‘God’s own country’. namely Lewisham. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the video in the body of this post and it seems unavailable now on YouTube.

To give you a flavour of the thoughts shared, here is the speech that Steven West would have made if he’d had the chance.

I wanted to make a small speech about Malcolm, on behalf of myself and of a very dear family friend, Susan Atkins, a lifelong youth worker herself, who wanted to express her gratitude and share in the celebration of Malcolm’s achievements.

Their connection started when Malcolm attended a youth club she set up in Deptford. Later they met through various union organisations and worked together in In Defence of Youth Work. Susan compared youth work to building an organic garden, where plants are allowed to grow at different rates and to be different shapes, sizes and colours. She said Malcolm allowed young people to find their space and to grow into themselves.

I like so many here was one of those young people. Malcolm taught me more than anything that I could have a voice too, that what I had to say mattered, and that I never had to do anything, say anything or accept anything just because someone told me so. In short that I could go my own way and that I was good enough…as just me.

Susan says,” Malcolm didn’t do tokenism, he did authenticity”.

Malcolm taught me a lot without telling me directly, by letting me make mistakes but with support and with someone there when it all went wrong.

Standing here today I can see how many lives he touched, he gave his time and was never once unavailable. He gave us all opportunities to better our lives and worked to empower us all.

That’s how I will remember Malcolm, in actions not just words.

In addition, I include the transcript of my contribution to proceedings, which was recited by another dear friend and comrade, Tim Price.

REMEMBERING MALCOLM

Our paths crossed almost forty years ago. I was giving a talk on ‘Working with Young Men – the dilemmas, the contradictions – at the Leicester College where Malcolm was a student, Afterwards, he approached me eager to discuss, not so much the content, more his delight that I ended by saying, ‘these thoughts are the best I’ve got for now’. We hit it off from that moment. We shared a sense that our opinions could never be settled for good. We should pursue them with conviction but always retain a measure of doubt, be open to challenge. Malcolm’s way of capturing this ambivalence was to preface his remarks with the turn of phrase, ‘it seems to me’. When a group was struggling with differences, with disagreements, he would ask us to go away and let the issues ‘marinate’ in our minds before returning.

Our friendship deepened during the 1984/85 Great Strike, side by side on the picket line, and from then on, one way or another, we were in collectives, believing that authentic change can only happen through coming together in solidarity and struggle – the Socialist Caucus, the Critically Chatting Collective and In Defence of Youth Work, to name a few.

At the heart of our way of seeing things is a commitment to democracy, a much abused and misused notion, For us the seeds of democracy are sown in our personal relationships with one another, in what we might call ‘intimate democracy’. It is based on a commitment to listen, easy to say but not so easy to do, and on a willingness to ‘give and take’ as we converse with one another. This is why we coined the phrase, ‘critically chatting’ to describe what we saw as essential to the democratic process be it in the family, the community, the youth centre, the council or wherever. I believe all the young people involved in the Mayor’s Project will know what I mean. Malx, as I used to call him for many years until he changed to Mal [I never knew why] didn’t instruct; he didn’t write scripts; he trusted young people; he wanted them to be who they wanted to be. Hating the idea that he was subject to the control of others, he tried his damnedest not to be a tool of control himself.

I loved him deeply as a friend and comrade. Towards the end, Malcolm unbelievably came to visit Marilyn and me on Crete. He wanted to tell us in person about his situation. We walked, we drank, we laughed and we wept. And, as ever, we put the world to rights. As we bade farewell, Malcolm urged me to be optimistic. He urged me to keep writing. I was wondering whether it was worth it. I have tried to heed his words. Doing so has meant that he is never far from my thoughts. As I ponder what to type he often whispers in my ear, in that soft Deptford accent, ‘Tony, it seems to me’.

Malcolm, Tim and I first met up in 1984, whilst supporting the Leicestershire Coalfield’s ‘Dirty Thirty’ during the Miners’Strike. For quite some years we worked together in the Socialist Caucus of the Community and Youth Workers Union [CYWU] and later the National Association of Local Government Officers {NALGO]. During this time our militant minuscule group adopted the Leon Rosselson tribute to the Diggers as our signature tune. By chance, we”ve found an attempted rendition I made a few years ago in a local taverna – the opening words, ‘In 1649’ are missing.

The struggle continues, my dear Malcolm but what to make of it? It would be good to chat. Critically, of course. You are sorely missed.

One thought on “Malcolm Ball – Celebrating his life

  1. Tim Price

    Malx’ impact on people’s lives was exceptional. This was very clear at the memorial where he was variously described as friend, brother and father figure. It was a shame that Tony could not be there as people from all the areas of his life were there to remember him together. I am sure that I am not the only one who thinks of him on a daily. He is sorely missed.

    Like

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