Tuesday, May 19, 2009


The other day I was collecting my tablets from a different chemist (tired of being asked by the woman at Boots why I don't claim my medical exemption and get them for free--I will do it when I'm not working thanks, and save the NHS £7.10 a month: I'm not an MP voraciously gobbling up every freebie I can get)--but anyway, I was collecting my tablets when I saw the gent in front of me get a methadone prescription dispensed. He took it out of the bag, opened the bottle, knocked it back like a shot of whisky, put the empty bottle on the counter and left. I was in the same pharmacist a few days later and I saw an entirely different person doing exactly the same thing.

Drugs. They aren't cool anymore, if they ever were. And they're definitely not counter-culture. They don't open doors to any kind of new mind that's going to topple the established order. All they appear to do--the harder variety anyway--is open doors to the poorhouse and then to your local A & E.

Everybody smokes a little weed these days, or at least, the vast majority of people, however much the police try to crack down on it and stop you getting high, low, relaxed, hungry, anxious, paranoid etc. etc. etc. Marijuana smokers are as common as people who butter their toast.

Heroin is seen as the dirty drug by the cognoscenti of the drug world. I don't know where that attitude comes from, since I'm not one of the cognoscenti, despite knowing a fair few of them. The perception is that the people who do that are poor, mangy, working class or sub-working class scum who have to beg on the streets or resort to mugging or prostitution to pay for their fix.

I don't like the self-righteous superiority or the emotional violence of that characterisation, but it seems to be socio-economically accurate, at least in my experience, "round here" as the song says. And coke is the favoured drug of those who look down on heroin abusers. A good many of them think they're counter-culture because they colour their hair purple or listen to underground bands nobody else has heard of (or cares to hear of), but when you really get into their minds you'll often find a lack of imagination, a lack of intelligence and a deep streak of conservatism that places them more in a camp with David Cameron than that Devendra dude with the nice beard, whatever his name is, the one who reinvented folk for the modern age.

These coke-snorting counter-culture poseurs share a love of the white powder with arrogant, clean-shaven, suit-wearing, slick-haired businessmen. And they do the same pills too. That ought to tell everybody something, including them.

Of course, we do have to question whether the counter-culture exists anymore, in any meaningful form; whether what's left isn't just a rather superior, self-indulgent, fragmented tribe with no ideology and no programme--nothing left to rebel against and no energy to find it if it's out there. That's certainly the way it appears to me, for whatever my opinion's worth.

Drugs actually were one of the decisive factors in ruining the possibility of spiritual and social change in the Sixties, that time of the last-but-one great flowering of the counter-culture (the Eighties in Britain were the last). If a person feels they can liberate themselves and prove their independence from government by lighting a cigarette (which is the absurd conceit of some marijuana smokers even now), they're not going to bother doing anything else. A fag's a fag. A pill's a pill. It's governments who give them their ridiculous and entirely false significance by making the ingestion of them equivalent somehow to gun crime, robbery, violence.

And although there are some lovely, intelligent, peace-loving people out there growing their own weed and providing bits of this and that for others, there are also--be warned--a lot of seriously unpleasant, no good, violent, bullying criminals pushing these signposts on the freedom road your way. And they don't want you to be liberated from the tyranny of convention. They don't want you to lead generations into exile, lay down forever on beds of flowers under skies of milk and honey. They just want your cash like every other capitalist in this ugly system--the only difference being that these fellows are happy for you to die so they can get it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is Parliamentary Democracy Finished?

I stood outside the Houses of Parliament recently, as the controversy over MPs expenses gathered pace, and wondered what Britain would be like without its present system of government. Without so-called parliamentary democracy (I say "so-called" because you could argue that it fails in some many ways to represent the interests of the British public). We've had the present system for a long time now; but feelings are running so high as news pours out day after day of greedy or just plain criminal activities by our MPS, it's not a huge leap to imagine not only the government falling, which wouldn't necessarily be a shame, but the whole system of government in this country.

And that would be a tragedy. Democracy may be imperfect; it may serve the interests of businessmen and psychosexually deranged powerbrokers; it may abandon those who need it most before they are out of the cradle. But so far it's the best system anybody has come up with--at least for the management of a nation as opposed to a village or a small community. Communism may have started with the best of intentions, but in every country that adopted it (or had it foisted upon them), we ultimately saw intellectuals jailed, homosexuals beaten up on the streets, art destroyed, religion suppressed, free expression stifled and the ordinary man and woman being force fed a diet of reprehensible lies and bullshit by a puppet media. (Remember that, I urge you, when you rent "The Motorcycle Diaries" and allow yourself to be sentimental about Che Guevara.)

Many of the current crop of British MPs have been revealed as so far removed from the people they supposedly represent, they can no longer recognise what is tasteful and proportionate in the practice of their jobs. It would seem there is a collective resentment in their ranks that they are not paid on a par with men and women in business. Which may be justified in an entirely abstract world, for the jobs they do are undoubtedly incredibly demanding and requiring of a commitment for which big bucks is the usual reward for men in suits (those who give of their mind and their muscle and their free hours but wear steel toe-capped boots and flourescent safety jackets are rewarded with a regular reminder that other people like them are unemployed). But the world of the MP is not an abstract one. A good many of them represent people who can't afford to put food on the table, if indeed they can afford a table. To those people an MP who retires claiming £18000 of public money to put up bookshelves is morally repugnant.

Some of the MPs featured in the Daily Telegraph's revelations have proven to be criminals. Plain and simple. Claiming interest on mortgage payments when the mortgage has been paid off is a crime; and "I forgot" would not wash in a court of law if somebody on a housing estate tried it. Those MPs, I say, should be arrested, tried, and if they are found to be guilty they should go to prison. If a double standard of that degree goes unchallenged by the law, the electorate's faith in parliament will never recover. As for the others, those who saw an expenses system ripe for the plucking and used it to take everything they could from the electorate, I think they should be made to stand for their seats again immediately and debate their actions openly with the voters in their constituencies. They wouldn't want to do that because they know, most of them, that they will lose their seats. But again that might be for the good of parliament and democracy, which needs a really powerful hose to wash it clean right now as far as the public are concerned. Are these men and women so selfishly motivated that they would prefer to save their own greedy behinds than rescue the image of a beleaguered parliament in a country where alienation from the political system was a disease even before the expenses scandal was broken by the Telegraph?

If we didn't have parliament and parliamentary democracy, I shudder to think of the depredations that would move in to fill the vacuum.

Friday, May 15, 2009

spencer bridge alba

at seven in the morning,

walking in the rain to work,

there are horses on their bellies

in the fields across the river,

traffic halted on the bridge,

horns blowing.

just now

a cold, mind-cleansing rain,

birds tweetling like in china--

just now, putting out the trash


disgusting, how you smell

these days counts for more

than who you are inside.

and yet, who wants to socialise

with a guy who smells of socks and sleep,

however nice he is?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


That's me. A stalker. I didn't know I was a stalker until a couple of weeks ago, but then I found out that I'd been one for two, maybe three, years. Someone I'd known for a long time told me.

Make no sense? Of course it doesn't. But then, gossip doesn't have to. An idea doesn't have to for it to take root in people's minds and shape all of their subsequent responses to a situation.

What I learned from this person, and confirmed with others because the revelation was so appalling, was that somebody I'd been friends with, but had stopped seeing, had told mutual acquaintances--most of whom we knew through work--that we'd stopped talking to each other because I was stalking her.

A bare-faced lie, but what does that matter? Those who knew me well knew from the beginning that it wasn't true; but everybody else--sadly a much larger number than the number of my intimates--took it either as a possibility or the very truth.

Which we all do, to be fair. Most of us would prefer to believe a lie than the truth because the lie tastes better. It has more spice. It appeals to the base side of our own nature, which is attracted to destruction rather than creation.

And yet, as symptomatic of human nature and social intercourse as lies and gossip are, it's hard to be so tolerant and understanding when it happens to you. I've been going around for the last two or three years wearing a label of creepiness and possible danger that I don't deserve.

What has that done to my reputation with the people I know? How has that affected my relationships? What friendships that might have blossomed died on the vine because people thought they knew something worrying about me? Don't talk to him, two weeks from now he'll be outside your window at midnight watching you sleep.

If I sound angry, it's because I'm angry.

My first question would be why, despite the human tendency to believe the worst in others, the people who believed what she said didn't view it through the prism of what they knew about her. She was crazy. Lovely, but nuts. Lived in a parallel universe; and all of them said it, both to her and behind her back. She made up boyfriends. She thought everybody with a penis wanted to fuck her. She saw bad spirits sitting on good people's shoulders. She wouldn't touch anybody but her dog because physical contact was the way Satan transferred his evil.

Oh, and she talked to her dog down the phone.

I did ask her to sleep with me once. But I never stalked her. She always called me, sometimes three, four, even five times a day, to tell me about her men and her mother and God, to advise me to give up Buddhism, which was another mask of the Devil, and repent to the Lord.

Most of the time when she called me she asked me to call her back because she had no credit. And like a fool I did it. If I had all of the money now that I spent on calls to her I'd be able to quit work and write into my dotage.

I say "like a fool", but I was a willing participant in what I thought of as a very close friendship. I even bought in, at times, to her pathological belief that the world was victimising her. That work and other people were trying to do her in. I have a paranoid relationship with everything else also. But paranoia is a conditioned, infantile response to complex situations and allows of no personal responsibility for what happens. I'm trying to grow up little by little. She was not.

Every day somebody new had hurt her. Every day somebody had spoken to her badly, treated her like a child. Every day somebody was trying to force her out of a job. "I'm finished with her," she would say about whoever the latest aggressor against her purity and good intentions might be, even when it was her own mother. The phrase always struck me as rather childlike.

But our closeness began to pall with its unremitting intensity, and its weirdness. I began to hate the fact that she was constantly insulting me. That was supposedly in jest, but it disguised a lack of sincerity, I thought; a disinclination or even an inability to go deeper. "The reason Bruce doesn't have a woman is that he looks like a tramp who should be sleeping in a bus station," she told somebody once. Ha ha.

I began to think, actually, that the real reason I couldn't find a partner of my own was because everybody who might conceivably have some interest in me thought I was sleeping with her. Which I wasn't. Nor would I have wanted to, other than for strictly animal reasons. A God-botherer who thought anti-bacterial handwash was mankind's greatest invention was never really my cup of meat (to lift a phrase from Bob Dylan).

So I asked her to sleep with me for a variety of reasons, some of them basic, some of them complex. I wanted a fuck, yes (it had been a long time since Ruth). I wanted to force her to get real for a change. And I wanted her out of the way as well, so that somebody, if they were out there, would have the green light to love me. Some of us operate on more than one level, you know.

As I suspected, she gave me the "I don't feel about you that way" speech. Which was fine. I was free now; and it was with quite a bit of relief that I stopped calling her.

When we did talk again, months later, it was at her instigation. When we stopped talking again it was because I was bored. Her space travels no longer charmed me in the way that they had; and I no longer wanted to be at war with the world. I was too tired for war. Too depressed for war. Too fucking lazy, actually, for war.

In addition, her perorations about this or that person and this or that institution victimising her seemed a little crazier than they had before. It seemed to me that her and reality, who had always been uneasy bedfellows, were headed for a rather messy divorce. I had been through all that with somebody else and I couldn't face it again.

She contacted me recently, after another long period of silence. Asked for the addresses of all the people we knew who'd wronged her. Said she was going to do something "not strictly legal" to equalise things so that she could move on in her mind to the next phase of her life. I told her I couldn't do that. She then bombarded me with calls and messages for days, realising possibly that she'd scared and revolted me, and wanting to get me back onside. I ignored all of them.

But it got hard when I had company. They wanted to know who the lunatic was who wouldn't leave me alone. "It's ****," I finally said to a close friend, who'd known her even longer than I had. "Oh, that prick-tease," said my friend. "Bruce, you're gonna have to stop being so nice and just tell her to fuck off. People like that just don't get the message."

So I texted her. Politely. Said I no longer had any room for her in my life. "It won't be enough," said my close friend. "You've got to be blunt." But I couldn't. After everything I still couldn't do that, which is something I'm proud of and irritated by in myself simultaneously.

At least for now, my message has turned out to be sufficient. The calling at every hour of the day and night has stopped. Though I wouldn't be surprised if it resumed someday. Though I lock my doors and windows before I go to bed each night.

It was while I was getting over the psychological pressure of having a nutter trying to inveighle me into some kind of revenge attack against people we knew that I learned I'd stalked the nutter all those years ago, poor benighted victim of life that she was.

You can believe which side of the story you want.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Who's Stealing Now, Mr. Media Man?

The BBC news this morning is reporting the scandal of MPs abusing public money with dodgy expenses claims, a story broken by the usually slumberous Daily Telegraph.

Now I'm an old leftist. As I stumbled into adulthood in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher was Queen and the Labour Party still had some principles to shed. I have since despaired of political solutions, but forgive a man whose attitudes were formed in that ideologically polarised time for not being able to understand why Labour Party politicians should claim thousands and thousands from the public purse for gardeners, cleaners, Sky subscriptions and mock-Tudor frontage to their houses. You'd expect such shenanigans from Tories. But representatives of the party that once belonged to the working man?

However, the BBC themselves should probably get off the moral high ground when it comes to reporting scandals about wanton rifling of the public coffers.

The radio show I heard the story on had two presenters, a third person to deliver traffic news, a fourth person to deliver weather forecasts, a fifth person to talk about sport, and a sixth and seventh person to comment on the economy. All of them paid out of the license fee and none of them, I would bet, on minimum wage. And that's one three-hour show on one BBC station, when there are at least seven that I know of and all the tv channels besides.

Is that a good way to spend the money they rob from every house in the country with the threat of the law levied against anybody disinclined to pay?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Labour Is Collapsing

Hazel Blears is in one of the papers this morning acknowledging the Brown government's calamitous failure to communicate its message to the public. Naturally this is being interpreted, everywhere--even by the liberal media--as an attack on Brown's leadership. "YouTube if you want to," she says at one point, apparently, and then goes on to call for her fellow cabinet ministers and rank-and-file MPs to return to traditional electioneering methods.

Well, you can't really see that last comment as anything other than an attack on Brown, after his rather arbitrary use of YouTube to announce something or other recently. But I think old Hazel was seized by a little hubris there. She was just seducing herself with the cleverness (relatively) of the comment. The rest of the piece--or the selections I've heard--do sound like a genuine attempt to get real with the voters (although "getting real" is another transparent conceit of people with a superiority complex--look at David Cameron).

The problem Labour has now--or the government, which is something apart from the actual party--is that everything they do, or say, or postulate, has a taint of disorder and corruption about it. Brown is undeniably a hopeless leader, unable to inspire those close to him or distant. Something about him looks terminally rotten, even if it isn't.

But beyond even Brown's rather creepy personal demeanour and his failure to organise his ministers, the government has just been there too long. We saw the same thing with the Tories before 1997, albeit it took the Tories a lot longer to run out of steam. Times change. But a government governs by the programme on which it was elected; it is dyed through to the root with its own diktat. Brown and co. are looking at the complex, dangerous and desperate world of 2009 through spectacles that see only the flabby conceits and comforts of 1997. They can hardly do otherwise.

Does this mean I'd rather see David Cameron and his band of prawn-coloured opportunists walking through the doors of No. Ten?

Absolutely not. Right now I don't see any politician or political party who seems equal to the challenges of the times we live in. Now, actually, may be the time for great artists to rise again and rescue us from danger the way Bob Dylan and the Beatles and so many others did in the 1960s.