The Plastic Hippo

January 28, 2013

Something in the air

Filed under: Politics,Rights,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:14 am
Image via Chang W. Lee-New York Times

Image via Chang W. Lee-New York Times

On Sunday morning, the snow that lasted a week had finally gone. Hopefully, this will bring to an end the irritating background whine of complaints about gritting, bin collections and school closures. Some new distraction is required.

The end of the snow, at least for the present, means less frequent encounters with a rather feisty elderly neighbour a few doors down. For the sake of anonymity we shall refer to her as “Annie”. Since her husband died, Annie has lived alone and her children and grandchildren are making a life far away. As bright as a button and still very active, meetings with this lovely octogenarian usual consist of a cursory good morning as we pass in the street but, in the spirit of the big society and when the snow is on the ground, we knock on her door. The game of cat and mouse is always the same. First she is puzzled and then a little irritated that we should suggest that she is incapable of shopping for bread, milk, tea and cat food and after a somewhat curt thank you, the door is closed. By the second or third day the tone softens to: “Well only if you`re going shopping anyway”. By the fourth day we are drinking tea in her kitchen and it is clear that another human being to talk to is more precious than a bag of groceries.

Fiercely independent, she is imbued with a cheerful natural racism that only those old enough to have lived through a war against fascism are allowed to possess without vehement challenge. Her casual use of words and phrases that could start a fight in a pub display astonishing prejudice yet are strangely tolerated and shamefully ignored by this hunter-gatherer returning with three litres of blue top and a medium sliced loaf. There is innocence in what seems offensive that suggests the words she uses are just descriptors and not intended to be insults. She is, it would seem, simply retaining the language she learned growing up before and during the war. Understandably an admirer of Winston Churchill, she maintains old style working-class conservatism. That is, until recently.

Bracing myself for the usual conversation about “youngsters today”, the fraught contention of “the workshy” and wince-inducing observations on “the foreigners moving in around here”, I noticed a change in mind-set during the most recent spell of inclement weather. She told me that two young boys from the family immediately next door had cleared her path of snow and ice without being asked to do so. For the first time, she described the family as “Asian” rather than her previously preferred categorisation. Apparently she gave the boys some sweets as a reward. She talked of the difficulties of her own children, one facing redundancy and struggling to pay the mortgage and could not understand why someone who had always worked hard should be in such a dire situation. Most tellingly, she said she did not trust “that posh David Cameron” even though she once liked him because, and these are her words not mine, “he had a crippled baby that died”. There is something in the air and it is not support for the government from Annie. I hope she makes it to see the next lot of snow.

One conversation with a little old lady is hardly grounds for taking to the barricades but other evidence of discontent, albeit apocryphal, is beginning to build like a fall of snow. On Saturday, between 25,000 and 30,000 people protested on the streets of Lewisham at the wrongful government attack on their hospital. The state broadcaster, who has for so long ignored the destruction of the NHS, begrudgingly gave about 30 seconds to the demonstration. The same bulletin gave seven minutes to the top story; the demonstrations in Egypt over the convictions of so-called football supporters. Clearly, the crisis on the streets of Port Said and Cairo is far more serious and involves death and extreme civil disorder with football as an excuse for violent opposition to a very bad and failing government. That could never happen in the UK…could it?

Further unscientific and unverifiable evidence can be gleaned by simply talking to people. With a government keen to ignore factual statistics and justify some very wrong decisions with a spurious anecdote, why can`t the rest of us. Battalions of “economic experts” say that they are baffled and cannot explain why unemployment is falling, crime is down, exam results are up and the deficit is being reduced even as we approach the triple dip. Anecdotes from ministers are regarded as truth and actual facts are ignored. The government is lying to its people. Like Cameron, I once met a black man but I don`t know any of the millions of scrounging families claiming thousands of pounds in benefits every week and I have yet to meet a head teacher who intends to offer children a sub-standard education. I have, however, met local shopkeepers in fear for their businesses and students who have no hope of employment only debt and strangers in pubs who, after the usual introductory chat regarding the weather, complain of a failing government. These people are not political analysts and many perhaps do not bother to vote, but the consensus seems to be that there is something in the air.

On Sunday afternoon, preparing chicken breasts in a “rustic” North African sauce and listening to the Radio 4 George Orwell season, the Neanderthal teenager I call son entered the kitchen. The radio was giving Orwell`s description of being hit by a bullet which seemed to engage the forager of fizzy drinks. “What`s this you`re listening to?” he grunted, I explained and he left. About ten minutes later, I paused at the door of the tip he calls a bedroom. For the first time in his life, he had voluntarily tuned into Radio 4. Please, please, please do not pass this on; his credibility will be as low as Osborne`s. During the meal, we talked about Eric Blair and the Spanish Civil War and he made a request that will delight me until my dying breath. After the food was eaten, I found and handed him my battered copy of Homage to Catalonia.

Call out the instigators because there`s something in the air.


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