‘It’s doing my head in’ – context and contradiction. The era of disinformation.

What seems yonks ago, I excused my failure to engage with the harm being reeked via the COVID narrative by way of a self-centred concern about what people might think of my doubts. I got over the feeling or did I? In the last few months, I’ve found myself in danger of being in the same place re the Ukraine. All the more so as commenting on what were initially fast-moving events felt pompous and pretentious. Now we are 120 days in. There’s something about offering your thoughts on what’s going on in the world that suggests you are some sort of self-styled expert or a tiresome anorak, who has too much time on their hands; or someone, who is detached from everyday existence yet claims to understand it better; or indeed someone, who is deep up their own rectum.

No doubt I do spend too much time prostrate before the computer, suffering the relentless assault on my thoughts waged by the powerful before searching assiduously for alternative interpretations. In both cases, I try as best I can to be both critical of the competing sources and content, self-critical in terms of my own history, assumptions and prejudices. I try not to be a useful idiot in anyone’s pocket.

Outside of this political obsession, strange, though, it may seem, I do have other interests and concerns, many of them very ordinary. I was going to say normal but the word has latterly taken on a different emphasis. It is said to require capital letters, the New Normal, towards which we are being propelled – a world of increased surveillance and control for ‘our own good’. To think in terms of a return to lower-case normal is perceived as backward, whilst believing that perhaps there might be a liberating future Abnormal, within which the world is turned upside down, is scoffed at as mere utopianism.

And ordinary normal is. of course, contradictory. It is an expression of accommodation and resistance to the capitalist imperative, to relations of power. It can be both, at one and the same time, lifeless or lively. It is what on the ground makes the world go round. Thus in the last few weeks, to my astonishment I’ve celebrated with some caution my birthday in our beautiful garden, wallowing in the unique sound created by Maria Manousaki and the Hot Club de Grece – wonderful musicians confined to barracks for most of the last two years. Folk evidently enjoyed themselves. At the same time, I’ve observed believers in masks and social distancing, given the green light by the authority to whom they have been obedient, returning to some semblance of sense, casting off the muzzles, hugging one another, yearning to be human. I’ve accompanied Glyka, our ageing dog, morn and eve, on her leisurely and olfactory rambling, never a smell to be ignored. What tales she could tell. And, true to my long-standing athletic obsession, I’ve continued, aching joints aside, to walk, cycle and occasionally run along the olive-lined lanes beyond our house with only the bleating sheep and gymnastic goats for company. And, I continue to sing, of a fashion.

Our John, my son, is well-known for his frustrated turn of phrase, ‘it’s doing my head in’ when faced with the welter of contradictions life throws up. I share his exasperation. One minute we are told we are fighting a war against a life-threatening and cunning virus. Yet, in the time it takes to be jabbed, the advocates of COVID’s deadliness beat a tactical retreat. In the next moment, it’s said we are fighting a war against a demonic and cunning dictator. For now, a tragic stalemate hangs over the Ukraine. Almost seamlessly one tortured narrative of intertwined fear and anxiety, intertwined compassion and intolerance replicates the other. Rainbow NHS logos are replaced on Facebook by the colours of the Ukrainian flag. How many of those signalling their virtue defended the NHS against privatisation or indeed had until yestermonth not a clue about Ukraine’s whereabouts, never mind its turbulent history and politics. To question the unanimity of the orchestrated consensus around COVID or Ukraine, being relayed 24/7 everywhere from the supermarket to the sports stadium, is to expose oneself as an anti-vaxx conspirator or a Putin pawn. Or as the favoured fatuous and contemptuous dismissal of doubt goes, ‘don’t you care, people are dying?’ In some mysterious way, those signing up to the dominant orthodox narrative are touched with a sensitivity to the human condition denied to those of a marginal heterodox disposition. Only the former really care. Only they shed tears of authentic concern. As for analysis or indeed its conspicuous absence, I am told with a patronising sigh, empty of any meaning, that the world is crazy, more specifically to clinch the argument that it’s all down to Putin being a deranged narcissist. To be sure he’s mightily fond of himself and yet……

A simple Manichean scenario is proposed. Good is battling with Evil so what to do but side with the Good? Case closed, debate rendered superfluous. Forgive the repetition, to chat critically is regarded as deviant.

Yet, to an inquiring mind, aren’t there reasonable questions.?

  1. Is it possible to grasp the contemporary situation in the Ukraine without an informed feel for a country’s turbulent history, which, as best I can see, is far from that of a freedom-loving democracy?
  2. Was the dramatic 2014 change of government in the Ukraine an emancipatory ‘velvet’ revolutionary happening or an orchestrated anti-Russian coup supported by the CIA with the involvement of influential Far Right/Nazi forces?
  3. Isn’t it stretching things to see the USA/NATO configuration as defensive and benign? Back in 2019 the Rand Corporation, widely regarded as the most influential think tank in North America, partially funded by the USA government itself, published a report entitled, Overextending and Unbalancing Russia, which argues a range of options necessary to keeping Russia in its place when it comes to the World Order. Is it ridiculous somehow to suggest that the USA/NATO military alliance appears to have been edging ever closer to encircling Russia with all its possible consequences?
  4. Of course, my questions reveal a deep-rooted suspicion of the motives of American imperialism that dates back to Chile and Vietnam. Given the USA’s track record of blatant, oft barbaric interventions into the affairs of countries far from its shores, to mention only Libya and Iraq and its history of pursuing regime change whatever the cost, I do feel nauseous faced with the stench of hypocrisy emanating from the White House, the Houses of Parliament, the National Assembly, the Bundestag or its namesakes. None of this excuses Moscow’s aggression but it refutes the right of any party involved to be claiming the moral high ground.

Now, if anyone of import, perhaps one of either an ‘influencer’ or a fact-checker had the slightest interest in my observations I might well be outed as a purveyor of misinformation and/or disinformation. As I understand it, if I’m misinforming you it’s down to me getting hold of the wrong end of the stick. It’s a matter of ignorance or stupidity. If I’m disinforming you I am deliberately leading you astray up the proverbial garden path. It’s calculated deceit.

At this very moment, the European Union has published guidelines. entitled 2022 Strengthened Code of Practice on Disinformation.

“Disinformation related to the coronavirus crisis and Russia’s war in Ukraine clearly show that we need stronger tools to fight online disinformation. [Věra Jourová, Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency]

It was very tempting to presume the code of practice was bureaucratic bollocks and be done with it. To my credit, eternal or otherwise, I downloaded and started to read. Forgive me, but I didn’t get to the end, the 48th page of painstaking instructions to relevant and compliant signatories. Not least indeed because it was in fact bureaucratic and disingenuous bollocks. Conspicuous by its absence was any definition of what constitutes disinformation. That is, apart from this really helpful explanation – ‘Disinformation, which for the rest of the Code is considered to include misinformation, disinformation information influence operations and foreign interference in the information space.’ However, do not fear, tucked away in a cascade of footnotes is to be found the following. ‘the notion of “Disinformation” does not include misleading advertising, reporting errors, satire and parody, or clearly identified partisan news and commentary, and is without prejudice to binding legal obligations, self-regulatory advertising codes, and standards regarding misleading advertising.” Fair enough I might be short of a few slices to fill a sandwich but, at first glance, I’m none the wiser. Isn’t all of this a contradictory mess? Of course, I’m being naive, this is the name of the game – creating confusion rather than clarity, being opaque as opposed to being transparent.

Other officious initiatives are also muddying the waters. In the UK we find something called ‘the counter-disinformation unit,’ set up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. The task of this unit is to identify ‘misinformation’ and then liaise with social media companies to make sure this content is removed. It appears all it takes for the unit to brand something as ‘misinformation’ and press the tech companies to censor, is that its staff find the content therein to be ‘inappropriate.’ I’ll resist lapsing into obscenity. This is banal and ludicrous – inappropriate in what sense? Over in the USA, the Biden administration put in place what it called a ‘Disinformation Board’, housed inside the Department of Homeland Security. Glenn Greenwald, dissident lawyer and commentator asked, under what circumstances is a domestic law enforcement agency allowed to decide what is true or false? Politico’s Jack Schafer wrote:

Who among us thinks the government should add to its work list the job of determining what is true and what is disinformation? And who thinks the government is capable of telling the truth? Our government produces lies and disinformation at an industrial scale and always has. It overclassifies vital information to block its own citizens from becoming any the wiser. It pays thousands of press aides to play hide the salami with facts….

In the event, the draconian initiative, following a vociferous backlash, is now ‘on pause’.

Over in New Zealand Te Pūnaha Matatini (TPM), a research group that receives Centre of Research Excellence government funding came up with the notion of ‘dangerous speech’, rhetoric that is a threat to us all. In essence, this catch-all concoction sought to silence any criticism of Jacinda Arden’s Zero-Covid policies. To return to the EU the bottom line of its Code of Practice is the necessity to cut off funding to what it deems to be ‘malicious actors’. Its goal is to demonetise dissident opinion. In terms of doing any disinforming not a single word of criticism is aimed at the mainstream or ‘legacy’ media. Not a single dilemma is raised about the financial and ideological control imposed on the mainstream by a handful of billionaire capitalists.

Ta to beconnected.esafety.gov.au

When push comes to shove ‘disinformation’ is whatever state or corporate power decides is at odds with their version of the truth. All else is ‘fake news’ – a meaningless construct if ever there was one.

The hardly hidden objective is to buttress government pronouncements and their sustenance by the mainstream media while systematically curtailing freedom of expression and critical analysis wherever it rears its awkward and annoying head. Obviously too it desires to prevent grass-roots financial support for dissent.

As to how we monitor what is right or wrong, a self-evidently simple task, the EU has the answer. It is the supposedly independent International Fact-Checking Network set up by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Amongst its impartial funders are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, along with Omidyar Network. With this army of fact-checking journalists, Jack and Jills of one trade, masters and mistresses of none collaborating with Facebook, Google and company in defence of the truth, we can rest easy in our beds.

Enough is enough for now. I am weary from trying to keep up with the many sides of what’s going on. In the end, I am left thinking that I need return to what is meant by propaganda. How this concept relates to the discourse of ‘informations’? Not so long ago Propaganda Studies was a recognised field of intellectual and political exploration. It sought to scrutinise the contesting opinions on offer in the public sphere.Today this method of inquiry is rendered redundant by the rise of an army of ‘disinformation graduates and scholars’ whose raison d’etre is to define the boundaries of debate in accord with what is acceptable to the ruling class and its minions. I will endeavour to pursue.

FREE JULIAN ASSANGE

I’m near to a meandering attempt to write about the increasing suppression of views opposing the voices of the powerful. As I prevaricate Priti Patel approves the extradition of Julian Assange. Indeed it is a dark day for freedom of thought, expression and interpretation. As for British democracy, it is revealed yet again as no more than at best a liberal oligarchy with no genuine accountability to its citizens.’

Extradition Statement: Patel approves extradition

Don’t extradite Julian Assange

This is a dark day for Press freedom and for British democracy. Anyone in this country who cares about freedom of expression should be deeply ashamed that the Home Secretary has approved the extradition of Julian Assange to the United States, the country that plotted his assassination.
Julian did nothing wrong. He has committed no crime and is not a criminal. He is a journalist and a publisher, and he is being punished for doing his job.

It was in Priti Patel’s power to do the right thing. Instead, she will forever be remembered as an accomplice of the United States in its agenda to turn investigative journalism into a criminal enterprise.

Foreign laws now determine the limits of press freedom in this country and the journalism that won the industry’s most prestigious prizes has been deemed an extraditable offence and worthy of a life sentence.

The path to Julian’s freedom is long and tortuous. Today is not the end of the fight. It is only the beginning of a new legal battle. We will appeal through the legal system; the next appeal will be before the High Court. We will fight louder and shout harder on the streets, we will organise and we will make Julian’s story known to all.

Make no mistake, this has always been a political case. Julian published evidence that the country trying to extradite him committed war crimes and covered them up; tortured and rendered; bribed foreign officials; and corrupted judicial inquiries into US wrongdoing. Their revenge is to try to disappear him into the darkest recesses of their prison system for the rest of his life to deter others from holding governments to account.

We will not let that happen. Julian’s freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. We will fight to return Julian to his family and to regain freedom of expression for us all.

Thanks to Tim Dawson

Yanis Varoufakis

Politician, DiEM25, Greece

“The game is up. Years of lies exposed. It was never about Sweden, Putin, Trump or Hillary. Assange was persecuted for exposing war crimes. Will those duped so far now stand with us in opposing his disappearance after a fake trial where his lawyers will not even know the charges?”

Alice Walker

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist

“Years from now people will say: Oh, if only I had known what we were losing when they abused this decent and courageous man!
I would have done something! But now, what can I do, since these days I don’t dare express what I know and think! Regret is too often the fruit of silence.”

Mairead Maguire

Nobel Peace Prize winner

“Julian Assange and his colleagues in Wikileaks have shown on numerous occasions that they are one of the last outlets of true democracy and their work for our freedom and speech”

Dunja Mijatović

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe

“Allowing Mr Assange’s extradition… would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

Reflections on the Meaning of Existence whilst Leaning on a Lamp-Post

The audience starts to assemble. Ta to Xavier

Further to my self-centred announcement of my 75th birthday, the following seeks to offer an insight into the tribulations plus a number of images of the celebratory event held at our house. I’m hoping that doing so might kick-start me into renewing the momentum of this blog. We will see. Perhaps predictably I’ve found myself in the past few days, as befits my three scores and fifteen, dwelling upon the question of what I’ve been up to in my life. Living in the birthplace of Western philosophy demands such reflection. For now, though this musing remains hazy in keeping with me being dazy for the past week or so.

My dazed condition dates back to an alarming moment when, on a longish journey home, the brakes on our stalwart Suzuki car failed. One tortuous way and another we limped to the garage where the dear girl, 22 years old was declared beyond repair. With the birthday bash only two days away, without transport, our predilection to be anxious reared its nagging head. Fortunately, neighbours and friends came to our aid as we remembered, yet again, something else we had forgotten, notably, παγάκιa, the essential ice cubes. The temperature was forecast to be 32 degrees.

A glimpse of our eclectic assortment of chairs/kαρέκλες and indeed friends. Ta to Xavier

Not a single eddy disturbed the tranquil opening to Sunday itself. Not a wisp of a breeze could be discerned. Only the animated birdsong and a cock crowing pierced the silence. It was going to be bloody hot. The start of the evening’s delights would have to be delayed. Nevertheless, the first task if we were to be ahead of ourselves was arranging the seating. Over 40 chairs had been begged and borrowed. Being diverse and inclusive by nature rather than being in thrall to some Johnny-come-lately Human Relations influencers, we refused none on the grounds of shape, size or colour. Thus, when completed, the eclectic composition of kαρέκλες fitted perfectly the natural amphitheatre provided by our back garden. We were pleased with ourselves which was to be our undoing.

Despite the resplendent garden defying our horticultural ignorance, Marilyn ventured that a couple more bursts of colour wouldn’t come amiss. All the more so as our neighbourhood pine marten seemed to take great pleasure in digging up and destroying the prettiest of our flowers. Despite it being the day of repose Mark and I volunteered to go in search. Intuitively perhaps we knew. The charming little florist in the next village, Vamos, was indeed closed. However, opposite was situated the seductive sight of the Mosaico cafe. It seemed irreverent on a hot Holy Day not to seek refreshment. Two pale ales and toast later we realised we best return at speed except we were empty-handed. In a last throw of the dice, we dashed to nearby Kalives where alas the florist was also closed. Yet two rows of plants had been left outside on the narrow pavement and this was Crete. Thus I chose two colourful offerings, nipped into the next-door craft shop where I left the money owed in the helpful hands of the unphased, artistic owner. Σε ευχαριστώ πολύ.

Mutterings aside and acknowledging the flowers in hand, Marilyn and Sara forgave our boyish antics but nonetheless, the preparations had been concertinaed. Before we knew where we were, folk were arriving, not least Maria Manousaki and the band, Hot Club de Grece. In fact, these brilliant musicians were no trouble, escaping into the shade to practise together.

Yiannis inseparable from his guitar even during a break. Ta to Xavier

As for ourselves, our brains fled to the mountains. We forgot all sorts – the aforesaid ice, the bread, the prosecco, the beers and much more. If we’d ordered pies, them too, for sure. Meanwhile Francesca, in charge of the canapes, was serenity itself. Whilst Linda, Lizzie and Marie recognising our plight mucked in on plying guests with drinks and nibbles.

Marilyn arrives with Rosemary’s glorious orange drizzle cake. Ta to Sara

As for Marilyn and I being by default master and mistress of ceremonies we sought to pull ourselves together, to stop being mard-arsed. Marilyn floated amongst our guests, exuding welcoming warmth. I ventured to the front of proceedings with an eye on a retreating, still blazing sun, ready to capture the audience’s attention. In doing so I set aside half a century of experience. It was my wont never to speak publicly without rehearsing, indeed almost memorising the script I had written in long hand. Thus armed, I scarcely ever looked down at my scribbling. I strutted the lecture and conference hall with confidence.

Dazed but not drunk, forgetting my lines. Dimitris, our dear neighbour, who climbed up our back wall from his olive grove below, looks concerned. Ta to Sara

Yet there I was without a note in my hand. The rest is an embarrassing blur. I said something about being fortunate to grow up at a time when, under proletarian pressure, Capitalism had made a number of profound concessions to the working class, notably free education from cradle to grave. I muttered something about education being to do with the creation of questioning, active citizens, not the indoctrination of obedient, passive consumers. I declared that we were at a crossroads in a clash between the struggle for authentic democracy and the imposition of technocratic authoritarianism. All of which needed much explanation. It was neither the time nor place but whenever is? Time for a ditty though?

Thus I sang ‘Ol’ Man River’, a song of age, conformity and resistance with a falter before intoning Paul Robeson’s rewriting of the closing lines – ‘I’ll keep laughin’ instead of cryin’, I must keep fightin’ till I’m dyin’. At the end of which I departed dizzily stage left without even introducing Maria, Yiannis, Antonis and Georgos, the Hot Club. Fortunately, there was no need for such niceties. From the first strum, la pompe, the voices of violin, guitars and double-bass intertwined seemingly effortlessly in a tour de force of jazz manouche. We swung and were captivated.

Maria swinging with the Hot Club. Ta to Xavier

At the break Marilyn and I had decided, given our advancing years, to allow ourselves a nostalgic glance back to growing up in Lancashire, sitting in front of the telly watching the comic films of Gracie Fields and George Formby.

Hence I began by singing our Gracie’s signature tune, ‘Sally in our Alley’. It is now claimed there wasn’t a dry eye in the garden. Tears of emotion or laughter, we shall never know.

After which I was joined by the Backyard Boys, Phil on ukulele, John banjo and Ian washboard to deliver George’s greatest giggle of a hit, ‘Leaning on a Lamp-post’. Their consummate backing was much admired. As was Phil’s account of a touching poem penned by Linda Manousaki.

Begging Sally to marry me. Ta to Sara
Leaning on a lamp-post waiting for a lass called Marilyn to pass by. Ta to Xavier
Phil reads Linda’s generous tribute to my scribbling. Ta to Xavier

Maria and the Hot Club opened the second set by generously accompanying my effort to do justice to a popular Greek number, ‘Τι είναι αυτό που λένε αγάπη;’ translated as ‘What is this thing called love?’. I will take solace in the fact that Anastasia was impressed with my performance. Once I was out of the way Maria and the Hot Club returned us to the joys of their musicianship.

Honoured to be singing ‘Τι είναι αυτό’ with these wonderful musicians. Ta to Rod
Anastasia evidently pleased with my rendition of ‘Τι είναι αυτό’ . Carsten can’t quite believe what he is hearing. Ta to Xavier

It was at this point that Marilyn and I cast off our cloak of anxiety, tried to stop stressing and sought to bask in the atmosphere of shared pleasure created in our idyllic back garden. To add to our delight the band played her special request, ‘Misty’. At the end, rapturous applause rang down our lane and folk went their separate ways.

It’s tempting to think Marilyn is listening to the ageless melody of ‘Misty’. Ta to Xavier

At a pivotal moment when the ruling class would like to divide us and consign us to a virtual world of their making, a collective experience created by improvisatory live music cocks a snook at the powerful. It belongs to us and no one else. Our gratitude is due to everyone for being involved in all manner of supportive and helpful ways. On the Sunday itself, we vowed ‘never again’ but with each passing day our affection for the occasion grows. Whatever transpires in the future as the old song goes, ‘Thanks for the memories’. The struggle ever continues but between whom?

Well, Linda and Maria seem to have enjoyed the occasion. Ta to Sara
Thanks all round. Ta to Sara
The party’s over. Ta to Xavier

Many thanks to Xavier Rouchaud, Sara Gilding and Rod Waters for the atmospheric photos.

Our bucket collection raised 325 Euros towards Medical Aid for Palestinians. Much appreciated.

Postscript.

Thanks to Rod or not as the case might be – Leaning on a Lamp-post live from Gavalohori with the Backyard Boys! Eat your heart out, George.

IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY

Across the last two months, I’ve been struggling [that word yet again] to say something worth saying about the Ukrainian debacle. My effort has been so tardy that I’m but a few weeks away from my next birthday. Whether any of my scribbling is worth the light of day remains to be seen. In the meantime, I thought you might be amused to hear of my faltering attempt to be fun-loving and light-hearted by way of holding a concert in our garden here in Gavalochori on Crete.

Marilyn’s painting of the entrance to our garden

IN LOVE AND STRUGGLE: TONY’S 75th BIRTHDAY

SUNDAY, JUNE 5th IN OUR GARDEN

A boy soprano in 1957
Up and coming race walker 1969

You are cordially invited to celebrate and/or commiserate with me on my grudging arrival at the grand old age of 75. Well over half a century ago I dreamt of the demise of capitalism, the creation of an authentically democratic society. Today that vision seems far, far away as many seem to be sleepwalking into an authoritarian dystopia.

On a picket line 1979
Speaking in support of JENGbA – Fighting Injustice, Wigan 2015

Yet ordinary life goes on with all its personal highs and lows. Hence I will cease being a curmudgeon and look forward to a delightful early evening of jazz performed by the wondrous Maria Manousakis and the brilliant Hot Club De Grece.

Maria and the Hot Club

On arrival at around 6ish canapes will be served, together with wine as befits our status as middle-class pensioners in exile. If we’d been in Wigan it would have been real ale and pies but you can’t have everything. The concert will kick off at 6.30 after which you will be thrown out to do as you please! No presents but, if you so wish, a bucket donation to Medical Aid for Palestinians gratefully accepted.

LA LOTTA CONTINUA  Ο ΑΓΏΝΑς ΣΥΝΕΧΊΖΕΤΑΙ  THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Sanitising and commodifying International Women’s Day

From the inspiring 1908 struggle of garment workers in New York – demanding higher wages and better conditions

(Kheel Center / Flickr)

From Petrograd, March 8, 1917demanding Bread and Peace

To sipping bubbly in the heart of Singapore’s financial centre, 2022

Zafferano

Credit Zafferano

Italian restaurant Zafferano is raising a glass to International Women’s Day with a Bellini cocktail promotion on March 7 and 8, 2022. Priced at $50++ for two glasses, the cocktails will be finished tableside with a pour of Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve NV, the signature champagne of a sixth-generation family-owned champagne house.

 Zafferano is at Ocean Financial Centre Level 43, 10 Collyer Quay, Singapore 049315.

Fifty Years since Saltley and the Closing of the Gates

It’s a few days late, but not too late to remember the remarkable expression of solidarity displayed on the streets of Birmingham fifty years ago. It was a significant moment for me. In many ways, I was up my own arse in my obsessive focus on my athletic goals but the strain of self-centredness was beginning to tell. I was increasingly perturbed by the day-to-day inequalities haunting the lives of many of the children in the primary school, within which I taught. However, I didn’t really have a grip on any social or political analysis of the reasons for this social injustice. Being a miner’s son, though, meant that I was following the escalating dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Tory government. I was confused but the gut feeling of respect and admiration prompted by the events of February 10th, 1972 marked a first stumbling step on my still unfinished political journey. There are more than a few, who think that my support for the growing collective resistance to the authoritarianism of the State today, however imperfect and contrary, is a sign that I’ve gone off the rails. I don’t think so and it’s interesting to quote Arthur Scargill, who I respected but never hero-worshipped, on his reading of the Battle of Saltley Gate.

To the eternal credit of the workers in Birmingham, they joined the miners on 10 February 1972.

These workers were not merely supporting a struggle on their own behalf: they were supporting their brothers and sisters in a struggle, not against an employer, but against the state.

On that day, everything I believed in, as a trade unionist and as a socialist, crystallised.

I would recommend this article by Emily Ingram in the Tribune for a revealing insight into memories of that momentous week – Fifty Years since the Battle of Saltley Gate

THE SALTLEY GATE MURAL – Thanks to news.limited

And to get a feeling of the atmosphere see this video from the outstanding Banner Theatre.

Remembering Steve Waterhouse – A youth worker’s youth worker

I can’t believe it’s six years since my dear friend and comrade, Steve Waterhouse died so tragically. By chance, a week or so ago, sifting through old boxes, I came across this photo of Steve and I demonstrating in Chesterfield against the privatisation of the NHS. Taken in the late 1980s we were marching particularly in support of the striking Scarsdale Hospital cleaners. Ironically, the government of the time was not calling on us to save the NHS, its policies being to the contrary.

Then I realised that although this blog is dedicated to Steve, along with Malcolm Ball, the obituary I penned at the time for IDYW has never appeared here. Hence I’m taking this opportunity to put the record straight. I think the piece still resonates.

RIP Steve Waterhouse : A youth worker’s youth worker

Steve W

I first met Steve Waterhouse in late 1984, drawn together by both youth work and the Miners’ Strike.  He was a part-time youth worker in Shirebrook, a pit village at the heart of community resistance to Thatcherite violence. I was the newly appointed District Community Education Officer, ostensibly his boss. Steve was a young, fresh-faced, passionate anarchist with a marvellous gift for relating to people, already a significant figure in the local music scene and co-founder in 1983 of a jobless youngsters’ Open Shop. I was a more wrinkled, yet passionate socialist, not keen on management’s right to manage. We hit it off right away. Indeed we got closer on our train journey to the Department of Education and Science, where I had to convince a panel that Steve was a diamond, despite having a trivial conviction for cannabis possession. They were suitably impressed, which thankfully meant that later Steve could pursue a full-time qualification.

We became fellow Bolsover Bucket Bangers, the name our diverse Community Education team adopted in the face of criticism that we took the progressive policies of the Derbyshire County Council too seriously. Steve was not interested in pretence. He was committed to what in those days we called a radical youth work praxis, opposed to exploitation and oppression in all its forms.

Crucially, though, and this is reflected across his whole career, he never sought to convert a young person to his way of seeing the world. He wanted simply, but not so simply, to be in a questioning, always respectful conversation with young people, which was lightened at every turn by his quick-witted sense of humour. That this was so is reflected in the outpouring of grief and love from hundreds of those he touched across thirty years of work with young people. Time and time again we read messages on Facebook that say, “Steve and I hardly ever agreed with one another, but he meant so much to me”.

SteveDawn
Steve and Dawn 1987 supporting Silentnight workers

He was deeply involved in the Community and Youth Workers Union and in our Socialist Caucus through the late ’80s, into the ’90s. I remember us arguing the toss about the nature of the capitalist state in the back garden of the Exeter Community Centre. Reluctantly I confessed to him that I thought he was much closer to the truth than my dogmatic assertions allowed. He didn’t hold it against me. As I left Derbyshire under a cloud, pursued by leading figures of the Council, he was my supportive case-worker as Audit sought to find transgressions within my travel claims. His faith in my integrity saw me through.

His move to Liverpool saw him become the key youth worker at what was to become the highly regarded Interchill Project. A comment from one of the original members says a great deal.

A guy walks into the interview room at Interchill and sits down confidently although slightly nervous. His name was Steve Waterhouse. Being Interviewed by a group of teenagers wasn’t what he was expecting. But we wanted to pick the right person ourselves to manage our youth facility. Needless to say, regardless of his dodgy socks 😂 Steve was our man. And the service and inspiration he went on to provide for the young people of Speke & Garston over the years will never be forgotten. It is with great sadness and disbelief to hear of his recent passing. A true peoples person and a father figure and advisor to so many. Steve you will be sadly missed.

Steve canoe
Steve canoeing. Ta to Tracey Ramsey

With Interchill falling foul of cuts, he moved over into the Liverpool Youth Service, where his outstanding endeavours were rewarded with an award for his dedication. As you might expect Steve was embarrassed by the attention.

In the early days of the In Defence of Youth Work campaign, Steve and I were reunited in the struggle to defend a young person-centred, process-led youth work. In retrospect, though it’s clear that the assault on open youth work, on his beliefs and values, was taking its toll on this remarkable bloke. It’s easy to say, but I don’t think he realised how much he had influenced young people’s lives.

Listen to just a few of the moving comments made:

I can’t believe this news. He was an important person to me. He changed how I felt about so much. Inspirational is just a word, but he changed my life and so many people around him. He loved people and wanted the best for them. The world has lost a fantastic human and I will miss him so much. Xx

I remember first meeting him at Interchill when I was 16 and being amazed at the set up. How he inspired young people to take control of their own services and supported them while maintaining excellent relationships. He was always warm, engaging and funny and such an integral part of my early youth work experience.

A few years ago Steve stayed with me on holiday and we had a surreal discussion on the terrace at the back of our house. In the teeth of all his own practice, Steve was arguing that youth work was just a job.  Hardly able to believe my ears I responded that he didn’t really believe this, that the youth work, we believed in, was closer to something we might dub a calling.  Given our atheism, this was not a calling from a deity, but a calling from all those past and present, who have sought in concert control over their own lives. It seemed to me that Steve’s denial that night of his own commitment was an expression of the mental and physical exhaustion that can accompany always giving of yourself, expecting little back in return.

To return to Facebook with all its contradictions this is where young and old have returned their love and gratitude, however belatedly, to a very special bloke. And, I don’t think Steve would think me opportunistic in saying to politicians and management alike, ‘if you want to grasp the significance of youth work, bin your manufactured outcomes and read the reactions of people to Steve’s passing. Take a breath and have the vision to see beyond tomorrow’s soulless data’.

Let me finish by saying that Steve’s way of being with young people was rooted in his anarchism, in his rejection of imposed authority and his belief in the creativity of those written off by the system. If Steve had faith, dented though it might have been, it was in our ability to create a more just and equal world. Together we could never accept that the present state of play is the best that humanity can come up with. I can but shed a tear at realising that we will never chat critically again; that we will never link arms again in the struggle against injustice; that we will never again laugh together at our pretensions. He was a dear friend and comrade or as one message defined him, ‘a youth worker’s youth worker’. Like so many others I loved him and I regret not conveying this enough in recent years.

Our best tribute to Steve’s memory is to continue defending the tradition of improvisatory and empathetic youth work he symbolised – a way of being with young people that is ‘volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees’. But a way of being, as many have testified, that brings enormous rewards; that truly has an authentic impact on young people’s lives.

I’ll sign off, Steve, in our time-honoured way.

In love and struggle,

Tony

The Importance of Wearing a Pinny

I’m in the middle of scribbling a couple more things about the bloody pandemic. Then I’m done. It’s weary keeping up with the information, misinformation and disinformation. An inner voice pleads, ‘just put up and shut up’. And then by chance, I trip up over this revealing photo and text, tears come to my ageing eyes, remembering my grandma and my mum. Simple, sentimental nostalgia of no significance. And yet………

Helen Ashton writes:

I don’t think most kids today know what an apron/pinny is. The main use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.


It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.


From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.


When visitors came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids.


And when the weather was cold, she wrapped it around her arms.


Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood or coal stove.


Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.


From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.


In the autumn, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.


When unexpected visitors called it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds.


It will be a long time before someone invents something as useful as a good old pinny.


[And today] They would go crazy trying to figure out how many germs were on that pinny.


I don’t think I ever caught anything from a pinny – but love.

PInched from The Wigan Nostalgia Facebook page and thanks again to Helen.