Is there a war on liberalism in Great Britain? With mentions of Jeremy Corbyn, or socialism, come what seems to be inevitable sneering and jeering and “lefty liberal” mockery. And it feels like the right hand is spiting the left but forgetting we’re all a part of the same body. It also feels like we’ve been here before and we’re just going around in circles. But then we are, aren’t we? Politics is transparently cyclical and without the great leveller that was the world wars will the “lefties” will have their voices heard? It seems unlikely. Voices of honesty and integrity are bland, it is only the grandstanders and the spinners that take the soapbox and only the sensational that get the headlines. The power of change is left in the hands of the many millions of non-voters, the third of Brits who are apathetic to their own lives, let alone the lives of others, and if they’re not voting now they’re not going to for the unspectacular Jeremy. Or at least that’s the fear. It is not a fear of left-wing defeat, but a fear that reality–truth, is not going to be outed. Without truth we’re just ice skating on jelly and hedonistically splaying apart our country. No one can react, grow or solve when the ground we’re building on isn’t understood. And as for change: proportional representation is never going to happen, it’s not going to be a thing, the Green Party will not be heard, JC will split their 2015 success and the environment will disappear further from the front-pages. The chinese will build their nuclear bonfires and George Osbourne will sell our integrity to whoever finds a way of finally botoxing away the distant bemusement that he can’t seem to hide from his face.
And it’s not new, it’s Thatcher, and its voices of the seventies that I hoped wouldn’t resurface. It’s emphasis placed on businessmen and women; cash-flow over humanity. It’s pretty fucking disgusting and it keeps leading to a question: what’s the point?
Discussions on the Rotherham sexual abuse continued today as hundreds of suspects including two Rotherham councillors have been identified by senior investigating officer Steve Baldwin. On Channel 4 News, Nazir Afzal, the former Chief Crown Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service for North West England appeared progressing his points from last year on ethnicity and child sexual grooming and abuse.
He and Cathy Newman seemed in consensus on both white British males being the majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse in the UK, and also that in Rotherham the majority of men in street-gangs abusing girls as young as 12 are of ‘Asian appearance’.
It’s been almost a year since Professor Alexis Jay’s inquiry was published and it almost feels like a sea-change is around the corner, if not only because publicity is abundant right now.
There are arguably some closely cutting truths and lessons for British values, these are two that stick out:
British racism created the need to walk on eggshells and be ‘politically correct’. Did this give those street-gangs a cushion and a ‘hall pass’ for their actions amidst fear of breaking political correctness? And being seen as racist? Muhbeen Hussain was firm in his shock, making a point to ignore excuses and expel Muslim solidarity with the perpetrators. But many confirmed this.
Britain is not a country with an uncaring heritage. But the children of the World War generation were a bridge between a polarising ‘all in this together’, post-war era of socialist adjustments to British life, and now – whatever you call this multi-coloured; loud; fast; busy and vibrant time. Blame is unnecessary for confusion over a multi-cultural Britain that one did not grow up in and for all the sweeping generality of a ‘societal value’ in nuanced British life there are always people who will make a stranger a warm cup of tea, even if they do not know how to confront a social-demographic disruption. But it was wrong that those who had already fallen through society’s cracks were further ignored. It is a facet of our modern collective heritage that is as disgusting as football holliganism.
Cultural values evolve and just as with the Jimmy Savile abuse, some persist that ‘times were different’. Is that the case? It must be hard to believe that the things you hear whispered in pubs and lectured about by outspoken, shaggy haired liberals with clipboards or wide-eyed conspiracy theorists were actually true. It is hard to believe that people we see, people we live near and with, are capable of such barbarism and self-gratification by means of piercing pain, hellish isolation, torture and life-destroying terror that they put the victims of their actions through. Victims who were children, in all likelihood looking to older men for solidity and affection, if looking at all.
Britain needs to learn, it needs to look into the eyes of the most vulnerable in our society and see that just because the shape of some people’s lives is so different to our own, it doesn’t mean it is not true. Britain needs to redevelop community, hell… Britain needs to give a shit. Britain is a strength in the world for morality, at least that’s how it is seen.
But for all the bell-ringing, society is a monolithic cargo ship not a sailboat. And it takes time to turn. Evolution, not revolution.
One’s relationship with religion can be deeply emotional, even if that is unbeknownst to oneself. Growing up in a 1980s/1990s village in England with friends who were deeply, familially religious yet being of a single-parent home with a complex family structure there, it is obvious, lay many sticky wickets. Many places where an unconventional boy growing up and his friends some of religious families may find conflict amongst themselves. I remember a day when, walking to the village green to play football, we crossed the dirty grassy track through the bush and my best friend asked me not to say the word “damn” around him, because he found it deeply unsettling and/or offensive. I found it offensive that he was censoring me (though I doubt my inner monologue used that term). We were ten.
Alter cross enshrouded for Lent
My mum did humour me on at least one occasion and we came to the Sunday Baptist service. We did not fit in. It was wierd. From that point onwards the weekly youth activities on a Friday night became more tumultuous and the relationship with the leaders and their children – those they were ultimately doing these groups for – became fractured. To the point where it was indirectly suggested that if the attendees did not go to Sunday services then it was not really for them anymore. We were maybe eleven or twelve. That was the first real experience of religious intolerance that I experienced. There were (as far as I could be aware) no Muslims, Sikhs or Jews in our village – the most exotic theology was Catholicism and everyone found that family more than a little strange. Though if you ventured into Cambridge sometimes you would see an actual Buddhist monk wandering around in orange robes. That was like seeing an alien. Really.
The village had a divide – in that divide there were two sects: the builders with their Sunday morning football, weekly sermons at the pub on a Friday and Saturday which felt like something from witch-hunting days – families that seemed to be famous in the village, faces you recognised but you knew would never recognise you. Then there were the religious families, equally as famous, but in more of an old-village, rather than new-village way. Perhaps my outsider status with both groups afforded me clarity of perspective. That was not unique to me, it wasn’t a particularly small village, at least not when I finally left – when I was born it was a three or four hundred homes lighter. Neither side were welcoming, both were intolerant in their own way and so organised religion and old-fashioned village bigots became two sides of the same coin.
Fortunately my mother was deeply open-minded and curious for her children, she brought us up with a deep curiousity in other religions and cultures. She took a stance that was intentionally opposed to village bigotry. She read us stories from the Ramayana, voted Green, practiced yoga and made sure we felt we could be whatever we wanted. It was a great gift. Especially since the village often conditioned us to laugh at those values.
But now, as an established adult, how does one make peace with traditional English religion and values and embrace the good things like Lent – the forty days preceding Easter Sunday whilst being more mindful of their history? Well, when I was a kid I’d often give up sweets for Lent, and then pig out on them after Easter. But I gave up junk food a month or so ago (and have never had more energy in my life) so I need to find something else. I didn’t even have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (something established to get rid of fatty ingredients in the house before the fasting of Lent). So what can someone who does nor partake in the new British tradition of dieting on junk food give up?
I shall give up negative thinking.
But why? Why do we bother giving anything up for Lent? Penance – absolution before God. Something any good, god-fearing Westerner ought to do, right?
Well, I’m trying to avoid ruining my mental health at the moment – I’m getting my body, mind and soul in shape and I don’t think that I need to berate myself for my sins. In fact, I do not necessarily think that I need to rid myself of them. Yes, for some it may work in the traditional Christian way, but it does not work for me. I’ve done bad things. I’ve been a bad person. We all have. I’m not going to repress it and develop a personality disorder, that just can’t be healthy. So I’m not going to try and self-harm myself into ridding me of negativity, instead I’m going to embrace harnessing negative thinking (and more obviously talking negatively) by what I’ve read in Pema Chödrön’s ‘Start Where You Are’ which described Tonglen meditation. I’m not going to ignore my history and the traditions of my environment, instead I’m going to try and embrace the opportunity. I’m also not going to beat myself around the face repeatedly until my mind falls in line – I’m going to trust what many others have found deeply rewarding and I think it’s going to work really well (see, I’m being positive already!)
Wings by Ethyline captures coming of age in an age now gone.
I heard it on a mixtape made for me. In a time before smartphones and digital cameras. In a time before Facebook and before anything except a 35mm camera existed for teenagers to capture time so casually and one dimensionally, and even then there was no immediate editing so the truth was often more interesting than the clinical selfies of today. In a time before your actual friends had email so to cure boredom when you’re too young to go out at the weekend you’ve unintentionally become pen pals with a person on the other side of the world. Just because they were the only one who didn’t send you abuse in a chatroom on Geocities when you were twelve and you just kind of stayed in touch, for some reason. A time where snake on a Nokia ‘brick’ was the height of mobile technology.
I listened to the song in a coming of age moment wearing a hoody in the cold autumn and winter nights skating in car parks with friends. It was simpler and as a result organic beauty was less diluted. You participate or you miss it. In that era we didn’t talk over MSN Messenger, or MySpace. We didn’t tweet. We didn’t Snapchat each other. We met up. We all met up, and it was usually really awkward, and that made it really simple. Wings is a song that made a very faint splash but without the hype machine founded on word-of-mouth and filtering of the cream that music forums like Punktastic provide, it was all both temporal and fleeting. An isolation that’s mirrored starkly in Ethyline’s song. The lyrics and reverb with delay on the clean guitars and rimshots echo this.
Living was fleeting moments of adolescence, the stark difference between the sharp moments of winning and the drawn out age of being awkward and anonymous. The lack of photos, videos or statuses that capture something fleeting. I wasn’t ever on stage in a play, I didn’t do music recitals, I didn’t play team sports. Moments were away from parents with cameras and camcorders/ video cameras. So the detail of it all is as blank as the darkness in which we lived, as the hedges on the edges of the fields we sat in. The places the carpark streetlights didn’t reach.
I’m not saying what this band has made is unique, or that this early version of the modern emo sound isn’t something that’s been done. There have to be thousands of alternatives that deliver a similar punch by thousands of bands that may or may not be well known each of which tells a tale of a well lived youth even if the story doesn’t end with a win. But I really, honestly, believe that this is special and reflects the lifestyle just described. Hopefully this post will help it to endure.