Saturday, 26 May 2018

Thomas Chatterton selected poems


Thomas Chatterton – suicide visionary. Bristol boy poet. Petulant anti-hero. Dark angel. The marvellous boy, according to Wordsworth. The poet's poet.
“Hey, Chatterton! What are you rebelling against?”
“What've you got?”
Thomas Chatterton, the poet whose death as immortalised in Henry Wallis's painting is better known than any of his actual poems. The poet whose statue stands (or rather, sits) at Bristol Harbourside, though his works remain unread and unknown by most who pass by it. Thomas Chatterton, one of Bristol's most famous sons though few know very little about apart from him being a suicide.

'What is war and all its joys? Useless mischief, empty noise.
What are arms and trophies won? Spangles glittering in the sun.
Rosy Bacchus, give me wine. Happiness is only thine.'
From Chatterton's poem A Bacchanalian, written in 1769 when he was just 16 years of age. Make of these lines what you will but if nothing else they tell us a little something about Chatterton that pulls him away from the grip of academia.
And so too the following lines from his poem The Defence:
'If in myself I think my notion just, The Church and all her arguments are dust.
Religion's but Opinion's bastard son, a perfect mystery, more than three in one.
Happy the man whose reason bids him see, Mankind are by the state of nature free.
Who, thinking for himself despises those, that would upon his better sense impose.'

Chatterton was a nonconformist. A dissenter, a freethinker, a free spirit, a misfit, and an outsider. Chatterton was a rebel. Born into poverty in 1752, at the age of 8 he was put into one of Edward Colston's charity schools where by all accounts the pupils were treated no better than criminals in a prison. At the age of 10 he began to write poetry. At age 15 he left the school and was apprenticed to a local attorney where he was tasked to copying legal documents.
Chatterton had hated the oppression of the school and the teachers there and likewise he hated the oppression of his workplace. No wonder then that according to his biographers he felt something of a grudge towards society and in particular towards figures of authority.

His only solace was in reading and writing though being so young of age and from an ill-educated background, nothing he ever wrote was going to be taken seriously though it was plain to see he was in fact in possession of a rare intelligence. Even perhaps, a rare genius? No wonder then that he took to forgery, passing his writing off as being written by a fictitious priest of the fifteenth century called Sir Thomas Rowley.
And this, subsequently, is what Chatterton became known for: as being the master faker. The forger supreme of poems.

At age 17, Chatterton set off for London to earn his living as a writer. Six months later he was dead by his own hand, poisoned by arsenic. His body found sprawled out on his bed in his attic room in Holborn, torn up fragments of manuscripts strewn across the floor.

Nowadays there are two schools of thought regarding Chatterton's death, both of which actually have very little foundation. Indeed, because the records of the inquest have long been lost there is very little evidence of anything. Even his unmarked grave has been lost to time.
One of the schools of thought says that Chatterton took his life due to him not making any headway in London as a writer and him not wanting to return to Bristol as a failure. It was pride that did for him. The other school of thought says that Chatterton's death was in actual fact an accident, brought about by him self-subscribing arsenic to himself to help cure a dose of gonorrhoea.
To these, however, I would add a third thought: Chatterton's suicide was intentional but committed as a final and ultimate act of defiance against all that he'd been born into.

Chatterton would have known full well that suicide was viewed by the Church, by his teachers at his school and by his employers, elders and betters of Bristol as an act of wickedness. As blasphemy. As a sin. An ultimate sin, even. All his life he had been mistreated by authority, offering him nothing but drudgery, hypocrisy and disrespect. Through his forgeries he had shown them all to be fools and no better than him in any way; the difference being that they were wealthy and he was penniless. Through his poems he had lambasted the morals and beliefs of the day, as well as individuals such as Horace Walpole whom Chatterton had once approached for patronage but who had refused him in no uncertain terms.
What better way to cock a snook at the world than by removing himself from it? What better way to express how little he cared for the values of the world by refusing to take part in them? Self-destruction – suicide – was the ultimate, big fuck off to the world, to everyone in it and to everything held dear by everyone in it.
“Hey, Chatterton! What are you rebelling against?”
“What've you got?”
Thomas Chatterton – suicide visionary. The marvellous boy...

John Serpico

Friday, 18 May 2018

Guilty Pleasures (Part 18)


A pale imitation of a shadow of the Bee Gees is better than no Bee Gees at all, as they say. And like God, if the Bee Gees didn't exist they would have to be invented. Which brings us neatly to Jive Talkin' who, according to the Wakefield Express are the 'original and best Bee Gees tribute act in the world'. And who would dare argue with the Wakefield Express?

The Bee Gees, of course, were once anathema to a generation incubated in the white heat of Punk Rock and suckled on the flaccid teats of everything alternative when the word actually meant 'alternative' and not just the same old shit covered in a layer of talcum powder.
Oh, how we laughed at those who took the Bee Gees seriously and who saw them even as role models. Saturday Night Fever was in no way the soundtrack to our lives as we vandalised the Council estates in which we were born. Far from it. The Bee Gees were bereft of sex and drugs and revolution and therefore held no meaning or appeal to us in the slightest.

When the mode of the music changes, however, the walls of the city shake. The wheel of the world keeps on turning bringing everything eventually full circle and here we all are now and just look where we're at. Nowadays it seems the alternative to the 'alternative' is a Bee Gees tribute act playing at the Exmouth Pavilion for £18.50 a ticket. Who'd have thought?
And will I be there? You bet! With my Cuban heels, my feather boa and my open-neck shirt I'll be dancing my clogs off and strutting my stuff til the break of dawn and the sun is shining on the cow shed.
See you on the dance floor...

Monday, 14 May 2018

The Enemy Within - Seumas Milne


Seumas Milne's book starts in a somewhat surprising way: With a telephone call to Arthur Scargill from Miles Copeland, the father of Stewart Copeland, the drummer with The Police. Miles Copeland was a retired senior CIA officer and he was warning Scargill that he was being 'set up' by both MI5 and the CIA: “I don't like your views and I never have,” said Copeland to Scargill “But I don't agree with the way you're being treated.
From her Downing Street bunker Thatcher had issued an order: 'Get Scargill', and from this authorization a campaign had been launched to destabilize and sabotage the NUM and destroy its elected leader. The year was 1990 and led by the Daily Mirror under the editorship of Robert Maxwell one of the most savage media and legal campaigns against a public figure in Britain in recent times was being launched. Scargill was being accused of stealing money meant for the NUM donated by the Soviet Union and Libya. He had also apparently asked Colonel Gaddafi if he could supply some guns to the NUM to help during the great miners strike of 1984.

As has now been confirmed through the various memoirs of members of the Thatcher government, the 1984 war against the miners was plotted, planned and premeditated; born from a twenty year vendetta against the NUM who had brought down past Tory governments. And indeed it was a war - a class war, essentially. The world's most advanced mining industry, billions of pounds of investment and one of the country's most skilled and adaptable workforces was being sacrificed in the service of a Tory vendetta and to remove a major obstacle in the road to the privatisation of public utilities and the opening up of the economy to market forces.

An interesting point that Milne raises early on in his book is in regard to the notion that the miners strike was defeated. 'After the defeat of the miners strike' is a phrase that every pundit uses nowadays when referring to the period but where did it come from? Yes, there was a stampede back to work in 1985 and yes, just as Scargill had said would happen thousands upon thousands of miners lost their jobs as coal mines were closed due to being – so the Thatcher government insisted – uneconomic. Yes, the NUM was decimated and the Conservatives won another election but in Thatcher's eyes this didn't really constitute a defeat for the miners and a victory for the Tories at all. The NUM was still there and importantly, Arthur Scargill was still there which meant in Thatcher's eyes 'the enemy within' was still there and though wounded, had not actually been defeated.

Milne details the lengths the Conservatives went to in their war and the way they utilized every tool in their box to ensure a victory, from the mass mobilization of the police to the use of GCHQ and the secret services. The miners strike may well have ended in 1985 but come 1990 the war still wasn't over and though there was no longer any need to physically take on the miners through the use of police lines and baton charges, the war of attrition continued.

Looking back on it all now it's far easier to see the wood for the trees and it's a pretty shameful sight. Arthur Scargill has been vindicated and all the accusations levelled at him have been disproved. In fact, he's come out as a man of great principle who stood up for his class against those who would stamp it into submission.
Shame, scorn and condemnation, however, upon all those who led the chorus of denunciation and outrageous lies against Scargill and the miners. How they live with themselves let alone sleep at night only they can know. The newspaper columnists and pundits who slandered Scargill mercilessly, one of them being Alistair Campbell who later became, of course, Tony Blair's press secretary. The whole of the Conservative government. The director-general of MI5 at the time, Stella Rimington, and the rest of the intelligence services who abused their powers and extended their remit no end. Roger Windsor, the NUM's chief executive who in all likelihood was an MI5 spy. Roger Cook, the investigative reporter who has never once apologised for the outright lies he broadcast on his television show, The Cook Report. Robert Maxwell, who himself stole £400 million from his own companies' pension funds before entering a watery grave. And not least of all, Neil Kinnock, the man whose finest hours consisted of outbursts against members of his own Labour Party. The man who presented the prizes at the British Press Awards in 1991 to the Daily Mirror reporters whose winning story was an absolute pack of lies. Shame, shame and shame again upon Kinnock.

The Enemy Within – The Secret War Against The Miners is without any doubt an important book and the lessons to be learned from it are equally as important, particularly in regard to Jeremy Corbyn and the way the media these days constantly vilifies him. It being, of course, a direct echo of the way it vilified Arthur Scargill or indeed anyone it wishes to destroy. Subsequently, it would be na├»ve to not believe the fingerprints of the intelligence services are all over the Corbyn situation just as they were over the Scargill affair.
There is indeed such a thing as 'the enemy within' but all the evidence points to it not being the miners or Arthur Scargill or anyone or anything the media presents it to be but the security services of Great Britain and whatever government they're working with at the time. Particularly if it's a Conservative one.
John Serpico