Archives » 1990s

Oh, Maggie, What Did We Do?

Anyone looking for a metaphor for the parlous state of the UK today doesn’t need to go very far. They only have to look at Theresa May’s speech at the Tory Party Conference yesterday. Just about everything that could go wrong did. The prankster illustrating the lack of authority the office of Prime Minister now holds. That letter falling off the slogan in the background which says it all about how austerity has hollowed away national cohesion and expertise. The slogan itself – a blatant example of truth reversal (they’re not building the country; they’re tearing it apart; they never do anything for everyone, they act for themselves, those who fund them and the extremely well-off.) A leader struggling to overcome the problems (albeit not entirely of her own making – though she didn’t do much to prevent their coming to pass and arguably contributed to their increase) in front of her.

And what on Earth was that about the British Dream?

There isn’t a British Dream*. We don’t do that sort of thing. We’re not USian.

But the phrase reminded me irresistibly of this song written by Roger Waters and taken from Pink Floyd’s album The Final Cut, from which I filched this post’s title. And the question it poses is a good one. I can trace all the ills that befall life in the UK today to that government from the 1980s. Kow-towing to the power of money, rampant exploitation of workers, poorly paid jobs, lack of social housing, high private rents – all have their roots in those times.

There are two unfortunate references in the song’s lyric, though. “Nips” (but that of course enables the rhyme) and “England”. She did damage to a hell of a lot more than England, Roger.

Pink Floyd: The Postwar Dream

*If there is it consists of getting the better of Johnny Foreigner and despising its own working class.

Bowie

The one name suffices. In modern times you could not be referring to anyone else.

There was (sadly that tense is now appropriate) only one Bowie: David.

For many the iconic moment of their lives was Bowie placing a carefree, languid, unthinking arm round Mick Ronson’s neck on that Top of the Pops appearance while promoting Starman and thereby validating sexualities beyond that of the straight and cis.

Bowie’s first brush with the charts came with Space Oddity in 1969, regarded at the time as a bit of a novelty record, though it wasn’t his last song to tangle with SF imagery.

He hit his stride with the Hunky Dory album in 1971 – on which nearly every track is a belter – though no hits were to come from that source till Life on Mars? was released as a single in 1973. This was of course after the breakthrough, the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars in 1972 and that hit with Starman. I would argue that Hunky Dory is the greater achievement. From Ziggy onwards Bowie seemed to be commercialising his talent. The string of hits that followed on from the Ziggy album, through his Aladdin Sane persona, up to Diamond Dogs perhaps bore that out.

He lost me with Young Americans, though. I’ve never been into that sort of music. There were stonkers still to come of course, when he’d changed his style a few more times, Heroes, Ashes to Ashes, Let’s Dance, China Girl, but it is the early stuff I’ll remember him for.

This is The Bewlay Brothers, from Hunky Dory of course.

David Bowie: The Bewlay Brothers

“Man is an obstacle, sad as the clown. (Oh, by jingo.)
So hold on to nothing and he won’t let you down.”

David Bowie: After All (from The Man Who Sold the World)

“I borrowed your time and I’m sorry I called.”

David, we’re not sorry you called.

David Robert Jones (“David Bowie”) 8/1/1947 – 10/1/2016. So it goes.

In the Spirit of Christmas

Midnight 24th December. Quiet has fallen. The hush is broken by the sound of male voices wafting over the broken ground from a hundred yards or so away:-

“Stille Nacht,
Heilige Nacht.”

Disbelieving British soldiers strain to make sense of what they are hearing, before joining in with Christmas songs of their own.

When day dawns, foodstuffs are exchanged, names and addresses noted down. A spontaneous outbreak of football occurs.

All this takes place exactly one hundred years ago today.

So goes the story anyway.

And it’s a great story. But how much truth is there in it?

There is almost no documentary evidence for games of football being played in No Man’s Land on December 25th 1914, though there is one reference to a tin of bully beef used as a makeshift ball. That there was a widespread ceasefire and a degree of fraternisation is, however, well attested and photographically recorded – but it wasn’t universal. Some who came out of the trenches were shot by snipers, others used the temporary lull to strengthen their defences. (The extent of this seems to have been relatively widespread and is not to be confused with the sporadic local truces – entirely sanctioned officially – arranged, for example, for the collection and burial of bodies which happened throughout the war.)

In any case even at Christmas 1914 the fighting was resumed within hours and no such extended expression of bonhomie occurred again. The armies’ top brasses made sure of that. As The Farm had it.

“The same old story again
All those tears shed in vain
Nothing learnt and nothing gained
Only hope remains.”

Yet the story of the Christmas Truce speaks to a hunger in us. We have a need for tales of humanity amidst carnage, acts of kindness between enemies, however sketchy their origins. It makes us believe that as individuals we too would behave well in adverse circumstances.

All together now. (Sorry, Gordon. It’s based on Pachelbel’s Canon.)

The Farm: All Together Now

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