I’ve mentioned this several times I know, but my granny used to keep a diary from time to time. I have at least one, maybe two volumes from the Eighties. Reading them is fascinating. She mixed the ordinary with the extraordinary. Entries swing wildly from buying a new carpet for the lounge to her thoughts about Robert Mugabe (ass hat). I thought of her this morning as I decided to write a blog post.
I have spent the whole week pretty much in my garden. I’ve painted my shed Forget Me Not blue, because I can. I’ve painted my fence a stormy blue/grey. I’m in a blue mood, it seems. I’ve been digging and weeding and planting, and it’s been good for what ails me, which is about equal parts dealing with the menopause and trying to wrap my head around what is happening in the world. I’ve been thinking about how lucky I am, despite everything. I’m thinking that I have a lot to be grateful for.
It feels like we are living in momentous times. Although maybe everyone feels like that at least once in their lifetime. I can’t know. I only live this lifetime.
Our political reality wobbles on a knife edge as Theresa May continues to pursue with relentless, grim jawed determination the unspeakable and sometimes unthinkable, all in pursuit of power.
Power to do what, I think as she firmly turns her back on another chance to make a better, more humane choice for the country and those of us who live in it. It reminds me of those films where the evil genius decides to blow the entire world to smithereens so that he can rule it uninterrupted by those pesky kids.
I always think, ‘rule what?’ What exactly would you be ruling after all that? Who the fuck would want to be in charge of a gently steaming pile of rubble where the only people still alive are like extras from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and really won’t take kindly to leadership of any kind when they could be rampaging across the land, eating each other.
I’m trying to think kind thoughts about the people who prior to the election moaned bitterly about the fact that if more young people had voted in the last election/referendum we wouldn’t be in this mess, and how shocking their apathy/failure to value their vote is. These are almost certainly the same people who are now blaming young people for the current mess because they voted in unprecedented numbers for Jeremy Corbyn, which apparently was the wrong thing to do and that if only they understood that they should walk away from the bribes of free university places and get to grips with the fact that socialism doesn’t work, we’d all be better off now. I wonder who they mean by ‘we’?
I’m trying to understand how this double standard works. I’m trying to understand how the things that the generations who are moaning about the ‘youth of today’ freely took advantage of, like free university places, an NHS that wasn’t at breaking point, a generous benefit system that really did support people cradle to grave, access to everything the EU had to offer, are able to look people who have none of these things and the prospect of a lot less in their austere Tory future, in the eye without being thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Because to me that smacks of I’m alright Jack, and bugger the lot of you.
It’s amazing how much the ‘redistribution of wealth won’t work’ speech comes from people who have some wealth to distribute. I wonder, if their positions were reversed, if they were teenagers now, they’d be so vehement? And I say this from the point of view of someone who did vote Labour and who is fully aware that I wouldn’t be in the privileged position I am today if it weren’t for free university education, brilliant healthcare and decent support when I spent 12 months desperately trying to get a job. And yes, I’m fine to pay more taxes, because I want an unprivatised health system and my children to get free education. I’d really like schools to be able to open five days a week. I’d really like libraries and Sure Start centres to stay open. I think it would be fantastic if the emergency services weren’t pared to the bone, and I know the money has to come from somewhere, and I’d be delighted to contribute to something other than Rupert Murdoch’s pension scheme and the wages of idle MPs.
I would also draw people’s attention to the fact that large numbers of people my age also voted Labour, because if you think growing up with nothing is hard, imagine growing old with nothing, because it’s going to be way fucking harder, and unless you’re independently wealthy, it’s coming to us all if Theresa stays in power.
What people who have reasonable lives always seem to forget in desperate times like these, is that those who have nothing, have nothing to lose by changing things, and if life keeps handing them nothing, or incessantly demanding they give what they don’t have, why shouldn’t they want something different? Why shouldn’t they want what you have?
And as for getting them to work harder, the benefit system the people who complain about ‘dole scroungers’ and ‘people getting something for nothing,’ talk about is a distant memory, and it’s time for people to update the map. When 30,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of austerity last year alone and malnutrition is the fastest rising cause of death in UK hospitals, we are not talking about people spending all their money on trainers and SKY television.
I’m also trying to understand, in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, well, just about everything really. I’m trying to understand those who are saying that now is not the time to get political about this, when the tower’s residents had been trying to get heard for months and couldn’t get anyone to listen to them, and because there is no more legal aid, could not afford representation. I’m trying to understand how those poor bloody people managed to live there, day in day out, in the sure and constant knowledge that they were effectively living in an accident waiting to happen and there was nothing they could do about it.
I’m trying to understand how it was alright to house people in wheelchairs on the top floor of a twenty four storey building with no proper access and facilities. I’m trying to understand why people don’t see this is happening all over the country and that the Grenfell tower tragedy could have happened, might still happen in every city in England where people are forced into sub standard accommodation, because the slums aren’t just history. Slum housing is a reality for many, many people who see their already hard lives exacerbated by housing that is dangerous, not just because it might collapse or set on fire, but because standards are so poor that things like mould and damp and vermin are a daily health hazard.
I am trying to understand how it’s not political that the lack of safety measures, the lack of sprinklers, fire escapes, etc, would have been at least looked at if the Tories hadn’t unanimously backed a decision to oppose Corbyn’s bill to make ALL human habitation actually fit for human beings. I am trying to understand why it’s ok to clad a building in millions of pounds of ‘pretty’ material because it benefits those who have money and who don’t like to look at poverty, but not to actually help people out of poverty.
I’m trying to understand why it shouldn’t be political except for those people who are saying that it might be the fault of the EU (except that the cladding in question is actually banned in at least three other EU countries) or immigrants ‘clogging up’ London. I’m trying to understand how it’s not political that fire stations have been being closed and fire fighters laid off in droves because saving money is much more important than saving lives. I’m trying to understand why it isn’t political when in response to this question (basically) Boris Johnson told the fire service to ‘get stuffed’.
I’m trying to understand how people can say that it is fine to cut these services to the bone because there were lots of fire fighters at the scene, while blithely failing to understand how lucky it was that the shops and flats that burned out in Walthamstow the day following Grenfell didn’t happen on the same night, or any other disaster in another part of the city.
And I really am trying to understand, because I know I live in a ‘bubble’ and I can still learn, and I have the ability to appreciate other’s points of view and I accept that my own point of view is just that. It isn’t fact, it’s just what I think and others do indeed have the right to think as they please, and they clearly do. I’m not always right and kind and good myself. I get that. But it’s just hard, as I write and think and read what I’ve written, to understand how someone can not think like me, because it all seems so logical. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe somebody will show me how it isn’t and I will ‘get it’. Until then I will continue to be baffled, and a bit sad.
And yet I’m not hopeless, because every time I try and fail to wrap my head around this I can absolutely understand those people who donated so many things to the victims of the fire that they had to stop taking donations. I can completely understand those people who are offering free legal advice, help, shelter, generosity in deed and spirit and kindness, because to me it seems logical that in situations like these, kindness is the only appropriate answer.
I’m not a big fan of Cheezus, as you know, but I try to live by a few simple rules, the most important of which is, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It’s what I always come back to as I dig. It’s what I always come back to when I veer towards despair. It’s simple. These times are throwing up choices all the time, choices about what we stand for, choices about what we do, choices about how we see ourselves, and that’s what it comes down to in the end. That and kindness.